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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Regional Electoral Laws Slammed

As Tatarstan’s legislature retreated from a conflict with federal authorities over election law Monday, Central Elections Commission Chairman Alexander Veshnyakov declared that federal election laws would always take precedence over regional ones.

Veshnyakov said at a news conference that a review of regional election laws showed many violations, including provisions in some of the so-called ethnic republics that make knowledge of the local language a requirement for running.

He also criticized the regions’ habit of tinkering with election dates, which violates a federal law passed in 1997 that says that terms of elected officials can be neither lengthened nor shortened.

In recent weeks, Tatarstan came into conflict with federal authorities over that issue, and the republic finally backed down Monday. Tatarstan’s State Council voted to reverse its September decision to move the republic’s presidential elections up three months to Dec. 24.

Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiyev said the decision to move the elections up had nothing to do with him, but observers say the State Council does not act without his approval.

On Monday, Shaimiyev urged the legislature to avoid conflict and reverse the decision. "I have taken a firm position," the legislature’s press service quoted Shaimiyev as saying at the session. "For the purity of the election of the republic’s president, whoever that will be, there should not be any questions that could arise."

Click here to read our Special Report on presidential election fraud.Other leaders — including Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov and Saratov Governor Dmitry Ayatskov — were re-elected in early votes, and federal election officials never challenged them.

The difference this time around is that a legal precedent has been set, said Alexei Titkov, an expert on the regions at the Moscow Carnegie Center. Early elections in the Mary-El region were recently contested in court, which found that the practice violated federal law.

While most governors who moved elections up did so to get a head start over their opponents, Shaimiyev’s move was widely seen as a way for him to get around the two-term limit the State Duma imposed on governors last year.

Bringing regional laws in line with federal ones has been a theme of Vladimir Putin’s presidency, and a decree he issued sets a January deadline for bringing regional legislation in line with the Constitution.

But, according to Vladimir Pribylovsky, president of the Panorama research center, there was no need for Shaimiyev to hurry, as term limits for governors are not set in the Constitution. And the federal law that limits governors’ terms gives regions until 2002 to change their election laws accordingly.

"They shouldn’t have started this fuss," Pribylovsky said, adding that the unnecessary conflict over the election date may have done some harm to Shaimiyev’s reputation.

Veshnyakov also urged some additions to federal election law, most notably a law on political parties.

He said the Central Elections Commission was working on a bill on parties — something Putin spoke about in his May inaugural address — that would be sent to the Duma before year’s end.

The bill would allow only registered parties to form party lists for parliamentary elections. To be registered as a party, an organization would have to have at least 200 members in more than half of the 89 regions and a total membership of no less than 10,000.

"There will probably be about 10 times fewer parties with the right to form an election bloc than the 180 that there are now," Veshnyakov said.