Referendum Restrictions Clear Duma

The State Duma on Friday imposed new restrictions on national referendums, ignoring vehement opposition from Communists.

The Duma voted 363-8 to amend existing laws in a third, final reading, effectively barring referendums on national issues such as the federal budget, taxation, treaties and the presidential term of office.

"We don't need any political forces promoting the idea of a referendum, playing on the destabilization of the political situation," Speaker Boris Gryzlov said, Itar-Tass reported.

All 57 members of the Duma's Communist faction walked out in protest, saying it deprived Russians of a voice in deciding issues of national importance. Such referendums are binding under the law, though few have been initiated since the Soviet collapse.

"We, the popularly elected lawmakers, are practically stripping the people of being able to express their will and speak out at a referendum," Communist Deputy Alexander Kulikov said as deputies prepared to vote on the measure. "Passing this bill will mean that we're asking people to shut up."

Under the amendment, referendums will only be called on local matters, like renaming a street or moving a monument, said Vadim Prokhorov, a former Central Election Commission member. "This is practically a complete ban on federal referendums," he said.

The bill now goes to the the Federation Council and then to the Kremlin for the president's signature.