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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Problem With Parties Is Quality

There has been a lot of anxious talk the last few months about the state of political parties in Russia. Last week the Central Elections Commission came out with a controversial draft law that would introduce strict requirements on parties before allowing them to participate in national or local elections.

It is no doubt true that the existence of scores of pathetic vanity parties built around the egos of Moscow political figures and scores more single-issue parties left over from elections long past does nothing to promote democracy. There seems to be near unanimous agreement that something must be done about this "problem."

So the CEC is proposing a system that it hopes will reduce the number of political parties from the present 188 to about 20. In order to run party-list candidates for local and national legislatures, parties will have to have at least 10,000 total members and at least 100 members in each of at least 45 subjects of the federation.

Naturally this proposal has alarmed many politicians who point out that only the Communist Party and the pro-Kremlin Unity movement are likely to be able to surmount such formidable barriers. More importantly, many have argued convincingly that this law will eliminate grass-roots political activity, making it possible to participate in political life only with the approval of some master in Moscow.

The CEC proposal is badly flawed and will indubitably have these consequences. The reason why the plan is flawed is precisely because of the "problem" that it seeks to solve. Instead of drafting a plan to reduce the number of political parties, the CEC would have done better to produce a plan designed to increase widespread public participation in political life, including participation in political parties.

We can’t help but think that if they had formulated their goal in these terms, they would have produced a plan that would look and feel a lot more like democracy than the one they are pushing now.

For one thing, that plan would not treat national and regional elections alike. That plan would strongly encourage local parties to put forward local candidates for regional and municipal posts. Rather than forcing national parties to mechanically sign up members to fill quotas, it would create incentives to stimulate people to join the process of their own volition.

No doubt this plan wouldn’t do anything to reduce the number of parties. But is this really a problem? Russia doesn’t have too many parties, but too many empty and pointless parties. We don’t need fewer parties; we need better ones.