Putin Submits Bill to Reverse Party Limits in Election Rules

Russian President Vladimir Putin submitted a draft law that would loosen restrictions for smaller parties to enter parliament and reinstate direct election of individual candidates scrapped during his first two terms.

The legislation would reduce the barrier for parties to win mandates in the 450-seat State Duma, the lower house of parliament, to 5 percent from 7 percent, according to an explanatory note published on the Kremlin’s website today. Under the bill, half of the Moscow-based legislature would be filled by election of individual candidates in districts, with the other half allocated on votes for parties.

“Putin’s key motivation is to create political competition, because the current system has shown its ineffectiveness,” said Yevgeny Minchenko, head of the International Institute of Political Expertise. “Putin is pragmatic and he understands that fresh blood is needed.”

While Putin has cracked down on opposition and non-government groups after securing a third presidential term last year, the Russian leader said in his state-of-the-nation address in December that the authorities “must aim to put everyone on equal footing” and proposed reinstating single-mandate constituencies that existed until 2004.

The changes may help Putin shore up his standing as support dwindles for the ruling United Russia party, which he helped found more than a decade ago.

Falling Support

Putin has repeatedly refused opposition demands to hold a re-run vote after allegations of fraud tainted December 2011 parliamentary elections that gave United Russia a majority of seats. The party was trusted by 40 percent of respondents in a poll published this week by the Public Opinion Foundation, down from 52 percent three years ago.

“The proposed changes are a response to public demand,” Alexei Makarkin, first vice president at the Moscow-based Center for Political Technologies, said by phone today. “Elections via single mandate constituencies is a popular idea. People want to vote for a politician, for a concrete person, and a party’s name is sometimes an abstraction for them.”

Two pro-democracy parties, the now-defunct Union of Right Forces, or SPS, and Yabloko, failed to win any seats in the Duma in 2007 elections after Putin’s government raised the entry barrier and abolished direct election of individual candidates that allowed lawmakers to garner seats outside of party lists.

Independent Candidates

The law would enable independent candidates to take part in election, requiring them to collect signatures representing 0.5 percent of their district’s electorate, or at least 500 people for constituencies with less than 100,000 voters. Party contenders and their single-mandate candidates won’t need to collect signatures in support of their bids.

Parties’ campaign funds must not exceed 700 million rubles ($23 million) and a limit of 15 million rubles is set on electoral expenses of candidates, according to the note.

Forming party coalitions and returning a ballot option of “against all” aren’t included in the bill, the newspaper Vedomosti reported today.

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