Duma Approves Referendum Bill

The State Duma passed on crucial second reading Wednesday of a bill calling for a drastic reduction in the range of issues that can be considered in national referendums.

The Communists, who were critical of the bill during debate for the first reading in October, saying it would deprive voters of a say in key national issues, said nothing of substance had changed with the new document. "It will now be impossible to introduce any real issue in a referendum," said Communist Duma Deputy Vadim Solovyov, Kommersant reported Wednesday.

The bill's contents would exclude referendums on issues falling within the "exclusive jurisdiction of government bodies," a vague description that critics charge leaves room for broad interpretation. The bills author's say it is necessary to prevent public discord, while critics say it will rule out plebiscites on issues including the federal budget, taxation, international treaties, border agreements and declarations of war.