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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin's Bill Passes With Two-Thirds Majority

The State Duma approved Friday the president's law on the reorganization of the Federation Council with enough votes to override that chamber's likely veto.

The bill f which deprives the governors and heads of regional legislatures of the seats they currently hold in the upper house and the immunity that comes with f was amended by the Duma to give the new, full-time representatives more independence from the regional leaders.

A simple majority was required for the Duma to pass the bill, but because the Federation Council is likely to reject it, proponents of the measure were hoping for the votes of two-thirds of the lower house f or 300 deputies f enough to override the Federation Council, which meets next week and must consider the bill within 14 days. In the end, 308 deputies voted for the bill, and 86 voted against it in the third and final reading. Three deputies abstained.

Another bill introduced by President Vladimir Putin further limiting the rights of regional leaders and due to be discussed in the second reading next week may come up against more resistance from deputies. A clause that would allow the president to suspend any governor facing criminal charges has evoked widespread protest.

But Friday's vote was not without suspense. The Communists, who with 92 members make up the largest faction, declared at the last minute that they would vote against the Federation Council bill. When the chamber voted on the bill in the second reading, it just barely scraped by the two-thirds mark with 302 votes. Shortly thereafter, the Communists announced that while six of their rank had been registered as voting in favor, that was "a technical error," and all six had actually voted against the bill.

It was not clear whether the same mistake was made in the third reading, but even without the six, the two-thirds majority would have been guaranteed.

Opponents of the bill said that if it becomes law, the country will cease to be a federation. "The law in fact changes the federated nature of the Russian state because the Federation Council in the form it will take will be superfluous. Then the next step is evident and logical: a single-chamber parliament. The regions won't play any role, and we'll be taking a step toward a centralized state," said Deputy Oleg Morozov of Tatarstan, a region that enjoys a great deal of autonomy under the present system.

But Morozov's group, Russia's Regions, which ostensibly represents the interests of the regions, allowed its members to vote freely, and only four voted against the bill, while 23 voted in favor.

The Duma passed a key amendment to remove an article from Putin's law that would have allowed the regions to recall their representatives, which critics said would have made them too dependent on the governors. Some factions said their support was conditional on that amendment being passed.

The procedure for choosing representatives now stands as follows: A region's parliament elects one of two representatives from candidates nominated by the speaker or by at least one-third of the legislators. The other representative is appointed by the governor but must be confirmed by the parliament. Elections must be held no later than Feb. 1.

Next week the Duma is expected to take up a Putin proposal that would give him the right to remove regional leaders. The bill stipulates that the president can dismiss a governor if a court decides that regional laws violate federal ones. But another clause, which many deputies have protested, would allow the president to suspend a governor who is facing criminal charges.

Some deputies favor an amendment that would require a formal request from the Prosecutor General's Office for any such suspension, along with one giving governors the right to appeal such a decision to the Supreme Court.

Boris Berezovsky, who sits on the Duma and took the country by surprise last month when he announced his opposition to Putin's plans to rein in the regions, voted against the bill. He said only the voters, and not the president, should be able to dismiss governors.

"If [a governor] is elected by the people, only that same mechanism can be used for his suspension. Maybe not directly, but through representatives, through the legislature. But any other way is not possible," Berezovsky told journalists. "The president can't remove a governor even if he's a murderer."