[home page][map of the server][news of the server][forums][publications][Yabloko's Views]
By Vladimir Kovalyev

City Duma Sets Poll Date

St Peterburg Times, May 31, 2002

Ending an almost two-year struggle to chose a date for elections to the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly the Chamber Assembly on Wednesday passed an amendment to the City Charter setting out Dec. 14 as the date for the vote.

The vote brought to an end to an on-and-off-again battle between a group of deputies that supported the December date and another group that wanted the vote to be moved back to April, or even December of next year.

On Wednesday, Legislative Assembly Speaker Sergei Tarasov laid the blame for the stalemate on the Northwestern Presidential Representative's office, which is headed by Victor Cherkesov. Tarasov, who supported the amendment, said Cherkesov's office had put pressure on some lawmakers to block its passage.

"I will go on record as saying that, unfortunately, the Northwestern Presidential Representative's office made a strong effort to try to convince lawmakers not to participate in the voting at all," Tarasov said after the vote. "The United Russia faction, with the exception of one deputy - Arkady Kramaryev - didn't take part in the vote. It's shameful that the leading pro-presidential faction would take such a stanve such a position."

"Despite this, most of the factions supported the amendment for December elections ... . These elections are extremely important for the city's future [and] citizens have the chance to start preparing for the event," he added.

Representatives in Cherkesov's office denied the accusations. "This is just another baseless comment that can't be believed. He didn't mention any names or any specifics of what has been done, so there's absolutely nothing to comment on here," the spokesperson for the Northwestern Presidential Representative's office, Alexei Gutsailo, said on Thursday.

Kramarev, the only United Russia member to cast a vote, wouldn't say whether he had been pressured in relation to his vote. "Voting is such a personal thing, so I'd rather not discuss this," he said on Thursday.

Only 38 of the 50 Legislative Assemblies turned up for the vote on the ammendment, with 34 voting for and 4 abstaining. The Union of Right Forces (SPS) party also boycotted the vote.

Part of the impetus behind the desire of some deputies to move the elections back came as a result of a new Federal election law that will come into force in July of 2003.

According to the law, which was passed by the Federation Counsel on Wednesday, deputies to regional parliaments and local councils will be elected by a two-tier sytem. Under the law, 50 lawmakers in the legislature would have been chosen by district, where they would have had to garner at least 25 percent of the vote, while another 50 would be elected on the basis of proportional representation and party lists. If the elections had been scheduled for after the law came into effect, the number of deputies would have ballooned to 100 and the composition of power in the legislature would have been altered.

"From the point of view of the federal parties, it makes perfect sense to have elections based on the party lists, because it would create a system in which the parliament is more independent from local power. That's what we were trying to do, but it didn't work out," Alexei Kovalyov, an SPS lawmaker, said in a telephone interview on Thursday.

The two-year struggle to settle on the date has involved a number of different government bodies, including the Federal Election Commission. The discussion heated up last autumn, when the St. Petersburg 300 Year Anniversary faction, a pro-Smolny group, filed a draft to hold the elections this April. The draft wasn't passed and, at the end of April, Federation Counsel Speaker Sergei Mironov managed to convince a group of lawmakers to vote for December. Mironov said that holding the elections before the end of the year was vital.

"With the elections taking place in December, it helps avoid a situation where the city could actually have found itself without a legislative branch for a few months" Mironov said at a briefing April on 29, following a closed meeting with the Legislative Assembly lawmakers.

According to the City Charter, the powers of the current Legislative Assembly end on Jan. 6, exactly four years after the assembly's first session, following the 1998 parliamentary elections.

Prior to Mironov's visit, the parties and factions had been almost perfectly divided between those those supporting a date this December and those in favor off one of the two dates next year.

At the April briefing, Mironov said that, if the elections weren't held in December, the deputies' offices at the Legislative Assembly would have been sealed and the city would have lost its seat on the Federation Council. As Mironov occupies that seat himself, there was some urgency to his message.

"Mironov has proved once again that he keeps his word. At the meeting he said his faction would vote for the December date and it did," said Viktor Yevtukhov, a Legislative Assembly lawmaker from the Unity faction.

One political analyst said that the amendment almost didn't pass because of forgetfulness.

"Yevtukhov, who is also an adviser to the governor, made the gesture that decided the issue," said Alexei Musakov, the head of the St. Petersburg Center for Regional Development. "He didn't have his voting key with him and managed to get his vote registered by raising his hand instead. Thirty-three votes wouldn't have been enough to carry the ammendment".

"This was all just a game [run by] the governor's side. [St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir] Yakovlev wanted the election to be held in April this year, but it didn't happen," he said.

Yevtukhov says that the April date would have been his preference as well, and would have lessened the chance of candidates trying to buy their way into the assembly.

"It would have been better if we had had the elections in April of this year, but the United Russia and SPS factions voted against this because they wanted the election system to include party lists," Yevtukhov said in a telephone interview on Thursday. "To get the top positions on these lists costs money - the potential lawmakers' own money," he said.

"Plus, if the governor has a position I agree with him. I'm the governor's adviser," he added.

But not everyone was thrilled that the party-list option had been eliminated.

"To chose a [local] parliament according to party lists is the best way. Now those candidates who finish first in their constituency with only 12 percent of the votes cast still get everything. As for the people who voted for candidates from other parties, they are left without representation," said Boris Vishnevsky, a Yabloko faction member in an interview on Wednesday.

Smolny's stance on the whole question was, perhaps, simplest of all.

"Why are we discussing this question at all, whether the best date is in december or some time else. The law says that lawmakers are elected to a four-year term. If that term is ending, there have to be elections. There's no question here at all," said Alexander Afanasyev, the spokesperson for Yakovlev, in a telephone interview on Thursday.

See also:
Elections/Regional Elections/St.Petersburg. Elections to Legislative

St Peterburg Times, May 31, 2002

[home page][map of the server][news of the server][forums][publications] [Yabloko's Views]