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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Duma Ordered to Avoid Populism

Itar-TassState Duma Deputy Gadzhimet Safaraliyev yawning as he reads a newspaper during the opening session Tuesday.
The State Duma kicked off its last session Tuesday with a vow from its speaker to resist populist proposals.

The first bill that deputies approved was anything but populist. It governs statistics.

Deputies said their parties' chances of winning seats in December elections would depend not on legislation but on their new fall schedule, which gives them extra time to meet voters in the regions.

In opening the fall session, Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov warned deputies against submitting bills that would increase social spending.

"I have said it before and I want to specially stress again that populist legislative initiatives will not garner support in this parliament," he said.

Gryzlov is the head of United Russia, the pro-Kremlin party that dominates the current Duma and is expected to dominate the next.

The Duma plans to consider 542 bills during the session. Of them, priority will be given to 42 bills from the president and the Cabinet and nine from Duma deputies, First Deputy Speaker Lyubov Sliska said.

This legislation includes a Cabinet-sponsored bill that defines strategic industries and restricts direct foreign investment in them. Two other key bills would create special economic zones in ports and regulate roads, auditing and export controls, according to a tentative plan posted on the Duma's web site.

The first vote Tuesday was for a bill titled "On official statistical records and the system of state statistics" -- a topic voters probably will not be thinking about when they go to polling stations Dec. 2. The bill easily passed in a first reading.

Deputies will work on a tighter schedule than in previous sessions. Deputies agreed at the end of the spring session that they would stay in Moscow for two weeks every month, instead of the usual three, but will convene three times a week instead of two -- on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

The deputies will use the extra week each month to meet with voters.

The fall session will last a total of only six weeks, and the last day is Nov. 17.

Freeing up more time to travel to the regions made sense, some deputies said, especially in light of Gryzlov's ban on populist proposals. Some said the ban would leave room only for tedious bills that would score them few points on the campaign trail.

Gennady Seleznyov, a former Duma speaker, said he was glad the 2008 federal budget had been passed in the spring session.

"Last time, it was extremely difficult to conduct the fall session in an election year because of the many populist demands in budget discussions. We don't have that now," he said by telephone.

This fall, deputies "will work to finish some old things and pass various amendments to the bills that they passed in haste," Seleznyov said, naming the Housing Code and the Building Code as examples. Seleznyov is a member of the People's Patriotic Union-Rodina faction, which groups together representatives of three small parties.

Another veteran deputy, Communist Viktor Ilyukhin, said voters would need more than the three months until elections to feel the effect of any new legislation and thus be influenced by it at the ballot box.

The fall schedule allowing deputies to spend more time with voters only formalizes what would take place anyway, he said.

"Less than a quarter of the deputies usually sit in the Duma during the campaign and press the voting buttons," said Ilyukhin, a deputy for 14 years.

Despite Gryzlov's warning about populism, United Russia could come up with bills that improve its election chances, said Deputy Alexander Chuyev of the Just Russia-Rodina faction.

"United Russia will attempt to introduce populist bills that will give people something good, such as salary or pension increases," he said.