A bill to change radically the landscape of Russian party politics
awaits the Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, when
it returns on Monday for its spring session.
The bill was sent to the parliament by President Vladimir Putin
during the Christmas recess. It proposes allowing only parties
least 10,000 members to register legally and to compete in national
Registered parties would have to maintain branches of at least
100 members in at least 45 of the country's 89 regions. Parties
winning more than 3 per cent of the national vote could claim
At present, Russia has almost 200 political parties, most of
them tiny and many dormant. A total of 26 parties and alliances
contested the last Duma elections in December 1999. Probably all
save a handful would disappear if, as seems highly likely, Mr
Putin's bill becomes law.
The survivors would certainly include the Communists, still
Russia's biggest political party.
Others to qualify would probably include Unity, the pro-Kremlin
bloc in the Duma; Fatherland, a conservative bloc; and perhaps
far-right Liberal Democratic party of Vladimir Zhirinovsky.
Yabloko, the centre-right party led by Grigory Yavlinsky, could
also qualify. But some think the new bill will help bring about
long-discussed merger between Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces,
liberal alliance whose leaders include Boris Nemtsov, Yegor Gaidar
Duma leaders are likely to decide on Tuesday to give the bill
first reading around February 1. Backing from the big parties
ensure that it passes.
The main opposition to the bill has come from an independent
Duma deputy, Vladimir Ryzhkov, who has been trying to win support
for a rival draft.
Mr Rizhkov says a membership threshold of 10,000 will block
the formation of new parties in the future, and should be cut
to 2,000. He fears Mr Putin's bill will give the government too
much power to deny or withdraw registration on trivial bureaucratic
grounds. But he has conceded that his chances of overturning it
are "practically nil".