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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Changes in Election Laws Clear First Hurdle

The State Duma on Friday gave initial approval to a raft of amendments to the country's election laws, including a provision that requires parties to field multiple party lists in cities and regions with more than 3 million people.

Deputies voted 336-88 in favor of the bill in a first reading. The Communist Party and A Just Russia opposed the bill, Interfax reported.

Critics of the amendment argue that it would give the pro-Kremlin United Russia party an unfair advantage in the country's most densely populated areas for the State Duma election this coming December.

The bill would make United Russia almost unbeatable in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, Rostov-on-Don, Krasnodar and the Moscow region, critics say.

Party lists for federal parliamentary elections are formed on the basis of regional groups. Current law requires parties to submit 100 such groups, which means fielding multiple lists in Moscow and other major cities.

As a result, United Russia, which counts many mayors and governors among its members, is forced to split its heavyweights among several lists, giving rival parties a better chance of victory against the second-tier candidates.

Other parties have found it difficult to put together 100 regional groups, however.

Mikhail Yemelyanov, a United Russia deputy on the Duma's Constitution and State Affairs Committee, said the current system was unfair to voters, because the votes of people in smaller regions are added to those cast by people in larger regions for the same party.

"People think they're voting for one candidate, but then candidates in another region whom they don't even know get their votes," he said.

Yemelyanov said the proposed amendments did not privilege any single party and were not politically motivated.

Critics of the bill disagree, however. Nikolai Kharitonov, a Communist deputy, said the changes would deprive voters of the right to choose.

"All these laws are provocative and will result in the superiority of United Russia over other parties," he said.

Alexei Makarkin, a political analyst at the Center for Political Technologies, said the amendment would chiefly benefit United Russia.

"United Russia's party lists in the major regions are usually headed by governors, who in most cases are either members of the party or sympathize with it," he said.

The bill includes a number of other changes to election law, including measures aimed at preventing convicted "extremists" from running for the legislature.