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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Duma Seeks to Clamp Down on Parties

The 43 parties that crowded the 1995 State Duma election ballot -- including minuscule vote-getters such as the Beer Lovers and the Association of Lawyers -- might be reduced to a more manageable number under legislation working its way through parliament.

The bill on elections to the Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, would require parties and individuals that fail to reach a certain minimum of votes to repay the government for campaign funding, free television time and newspaper ads -- a penalty that might discourage splinter parties, or make them team up with bigger ones.

Duma elections are due to be held by December next year but could be called earlier. Half the 450 seats are filled on an individual constituency basis, the other half on a party-proportional basis.

Only four parties in 1995 got more than the 5 percent necessary for proportional representation in the Duma, and 26 parties failed to get even 1 percent, with many of them lacking coherent programs or organization.

The new arrangement would require individuals to get 4 percent and parties to get 2 percent in order to qualify for the free advertising. That would have cut off the tap for the Beer Lovers, which got 0.62 percent, and the Bloc of 38 Words, which got 0.42, and the Association of Lawyers, which came in at 0.35 percent.

The measure's sponsor, Viktor Sheinis of the liberal Yabloko party, says some of the minor parties and candidates used the free air time just to advertise themselves or their businesses. Other observers have said the large number of parties confuses voters.

Sheinis' measure would also allow parties and individuals to pay a deposit rather than proving their bona fides by gathering a list of signatures. That would give money that currently goes to professional signature-gatherers into the hands of the government, cutting the costs of financing elections.

Nikolai Petrov, a scholar with the Carnegie Moscow Center who studied the 1995 parliamentary elections, said that cutting the number of minor parties might not be a bad idea. The proliferation "creates noise which keeps the electorate from making sound decisions," Petrov said. "Three-quarters of them are accidental, insubstantial structures that arose only for the elections and devalue elections as a democratic institution."

Sheinis' two-bill package contained another election-law measure to strengthen the Duma's hand if there is an early election later this year.

A law passed earlier this year required all parties to re-register at least one year before the next elections in order to be eligible to run.

All parties have hurried to do so, but since the re-registration period under the law only began in May, the requirement would have barred current parties from early elections -- which could be triggered by a vote of no confidence in the government -- until mid-1999.

President Boris Yeltsin used the possibility of exclusion from elections to intimidate the Duma during his successful effort to win approval for the nomination of Sergei Kiriyenko as prime minister. Had the Duma refused and been dissolved for new elections, Yeltsin could have used the loophole to stop the current parties, including the dominant Communists, from taking part.

The Sheinis measure has met this threat by permitting all currently registered parties to compete in any election held before July 1, 1999.

Both bills were approved Wednesday on second reading, at which legislation takes substantially final form. They must pass one more Duma vote and be approved by the Federation Council upper house and be signed by Yeltsin to become law.