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gazeta.ru, October 8, 2002

Pro-Kremlin party to rid Duma of liberals, Zhirinovsky

by Artyom Vernidoub

Existing economic mechanisms only achieve the very narrow goal of maintaining the present [economic] level, but fail to provide for medium-term economic growth. In terms of solutions to the main problems facing the country, the economic system has been in a state of decline and has The State Duma's most numerous and servile faction -- the pro-Kremlin Unity Party and its centrist allies -- is set to purge the house of its smaller factions, such as Yabloko, the Union of Right-Wing Forces (SPS), and Vladimir Zhirinovsky's LDPR, and in the long run form a bipartisan parliament.

Once again in a joint effort with the Communists, United Russia -- the party formed by an alliance between Unity and Fatherland All Russia last year -- is considering raising the election barrier from 5 to 12.5 per cent. According to Gazeta.Ru's sources, the political future of the liberal SPS and Yabloko now depends on the Kremlin.

For two days in a row the governing body of United Russia -- its central political council -- held consultations in the luxurious Vatutinki country hotel near Moscow. The party's activists were setting new goals and summing up their work so far.

Those results are, indeed, astonishing. Over the past three months hundreds of thousands of Russians have joined the ranks of United Russia. ''You will take away with you party-membership cards for 200,000 people. Our machine has been working hard,'' the head of the party's general council Alexander Bespalov informed the delegates.

Obviously, the allusion to the machine was a reference to the printing press that has been producing so many party-membership cards. In early September they were distributed to 147 deputies of the State Duma, and at the end of September to 35 senators in the Federation Council.

Cynical observers suggested that the delegates prolonged their stay in Vatutinki until Monday so that the main decision of the party session would be announced on President Putin's birthday.

It was rumoured that party-membership card No.1 issued in the name of the President could be presented that evening. At any rate, on the eve of the party council session United Russia's activists said they would ask Putin to stand at the helm of their party.

Duma vice-speaker and Unity member Lyubov Sliska said in an interview with Gazeta.Ru last month that the law on elections would be amended to enable senior state officials to join political parties. It appears that nobody in United Russia doubts Putin's desire to become their leader.

However, the aforementioned presidential amendment was one of the less serious legislative initiatives proposed at Vatutinki. For instance, the United Russia delegates still want to introduce the so-called anti-defection rule, banning deputies elected to the lower house on the list of one party from joining another party.

And even this pales in comparison with the main proposal of the party's council. They are set to establish a single criterion for determining the winners in gubernatorial and parliamentary elections at all levels.

In particular, according to the United Russia party members, a candidate to the governor's post should be declared winner only if he scores at least 50 percent of the vote. And as for candidates running for Duma seats in single-mandate constituencies, the minimum should be 25 percent, while political parties should clear a 12.5% hurdle to be represented in the lower house.

If the election barrier is raised, the only parties that are sure to clear it are the Communists and the party of power, a position which United Russia is striving to consolidate in the run-up to the December 2003 parliamentary polls.

This would also means only six of all the factions presently in the State Duma would survive in one form or another. The Communists and their long-standing allies, the Agrarian Group, would most likely merge, while the centrists -- Unity, Fatherland All Russia, the People's Deputy Group and Regions of Russia -- would form a strong alliance and enter the house under the banner of United Russia. The Union of the Right-Wing Forces, Yabloko, and Vladimir Zhirinovsky's LDPR would most likely find themselves sidelined and be forced to switch their political activities to the streets.

Judging by a public opinion survey conducted by the All-Russian Centre for Public Opinion Studies (VTsIOM) in September, the Communist Party is still popular with 34 per cent of those polled, while 28 per cent are ready to cast their vote for United Russia. The ratings of all other political parties barely reach the present-day 5 per cent required to enter the lower house.

This begs the question: why do United Russia want any changes? ''So the voters understand what political force represents them and that it can do something tangible for them,'' the Regions of Russia leader Oleg Morozov said on Monday. At the same time Morozov added that the 12.5 barrier is not a concrete proposal from the centrists -- the election barrier may also be raised from 5 to 7 per cent.

According to Gazeta.Ru sources, at the second reading of the new bill on parliamentary elections, to be held this October, the centrist faction will insist on raising the hurdle to 7 per cent. As soon as this idea appeared in the Russian media it met with harsh criticism from many observers and liberal politicians.

Thus, it appears that the 12.5 per cent proposal was simply an attempt to gauge the public's reaction and was used as a measure to scare other factions into the compromise 7 per cent barrier. Then most factions, except the SPS, Yabloko, and the LDPR, will back the 7 per cent-proposal and the relevant amendment will be introduced to the draft law.

Incidentally, the centrists will once again have to reach an agreement with the Communists, who also have their own agenda -- to prevent the nascent left-wing force headed by Gennady Seleznyov from entering the lower house. [Back in early 2000 the pro-Kremlin Unity and the Communists signed a so-called package agreement on the distribution of key posts in Duma committees. Earlier this year the pact was reversed, and the Communists were ousted from most of their posts. The Duma speaker Gennady Seleznyov, who refused to side with the Communists and leave his post in protest, was expelled from the CPRF, and established a new left wing party.]

In these circumstances the right-wing parties and Yabloko can merelypray that the Kremlin rejects the initiative. Earlier this month the Central Election Committee's chief Alexander Veshnyakov, who presented the draft law on elections to the lower house on behalf of the presidential administration, said the 5 per cent election barrier provision must remain unchanged. So, it appears that the right-wing parties, as well as Mr. Zhirinovsky, still retain a glimmer of hope.

See also:
State Duma Elections 2003

gazeta.ru, October 8, 2002

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