06MOSCOW7666, NEW RESTRICTIVE RUSSIAN ELECTORAL LEGISLATION

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
06MOSCOW7666 2006-07-18 12:33 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Moscow

VZCZCXRO2015
RR RUEHDBU
DE RUEHMO #7666/01 1991233
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 181233Z JUL 06
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 9164
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE
RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MOSCOW 007666 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/11/2016 
TAGS: PGOV PREL PINR RS
SUBJECT: NEW RESTRICTIVE RUSSIAN ELECTORAL LEGISLATION 
 
REF: A. 2004 MOSCOW 9554 
 
     B. 2005 MOSCOW 6811 
 
Classified By: DCM Daniel A. Russell.  Reasons 1.4b and d. 
 
1. (C) SUMMARY.  A flurry of new, more restrictive legal 
measures affecting the conduct of elections appeared during 
the last few weeks of the spring sessions of both houses of 
the Russian parliament.  On July 12, President Putin signed 
amendments passed by both houses that end the option of 
voting "against all candidates" on ballots and prohibit 
politicians from changing factions after they have been 
elected.  Both legislative chambers also passed a 
controversial bill, which was sent to Putin for signature on 
July 14, that would amend the law on countering extremism to 
expand the definition of extremism, a move which many 
observers believe could be selectively used to target 
politicians and parties and to stifle dissent.  The Duma also 
considered other amendments to the voting rights law, which 
would reinstate early voting before election day and widen 
the criteria for removing parties and candidates from races 
on extremist grounds and for denying registration to 
candidates and parties based on incomplete documentation. 
These latter amendments will be taken up again when the Duma 
reconvenes for its autumn session on September 3.  Most 
observers believe that the United Russia party is behind all 
of these measures, as it seeks to bolster its position in the 
run-up to 2007/2008 elections.  Despite their hurried 
passage, these amendments have been sharply by both 
pro-Kremlin and opposition figures.  The most prominent 
critic of all of these measures has been Central Elections 
Commission Chair Aleksandr Veshnyakov, who told A/S Fried 
that the extremism bill goes too far and the early 
voting/ending "against all" amendments were bad for Russian 
democracy.  END SUMMARY. 
. 
-------------------- 
EXTREMISM AMENDMENTS 
-------------------- 
 
2. (SBU) New amendments to the law "On Countering Extremism" 
have been passed by both houses and forwarded on July 14 for 
signature to President Putin.  The definition of extremism in 
Article 1 of the existing law would be changed to include 
"preventing government bodies or state agencies from 
performing their legitimate functions," "direct calls for 
extremist activities," "public statements that encourage or 
allow for extremist activities," and "defamatory statements 
against federal or regional officials, combined with 
allegations of major crimes."  The list of actions that might 
be considered extremist has been enlarged to include all 
statements and reports concerning state officials, 
propagation of supremacy or inferiority of ethnic or 
religious groups, and production of audio or visual materials 
containing elements of an extremist nature.  The word 
"extremist" will be applicable not only to the person who 
made such remarks, but also to the distributor of print, 
audiovisual, or other materials, such as Internet web sites. 
Actions such as occupation of government offices would be 
regarded not as disturbances of the peace but as extremism 
punishable under Article 280 of the Criminal Code with a 
prison term of up to three years.  Under Article 15 of the 
existing law, parties can avoid legal action if they renounce 
members accused of offenses, but this provision would be 
removed under the new amendments. 
 
3. (SBU) The new extremism amendments enjoyed broad support 
among United Russia and other pro-government forces. 
Twenty-seven members of the Public Chamber called for similar 
legislation barring "extremists" from elections shortly 
before the amendments were introduced in the Duma.  Also, the 
heads of 13 Russian regions (11 of which are members of the 
United Russia executive committee) issued a letter in support 
of the amendments during the week of June 18, just days 
before the Duma was to vote on them.  Many civil society 
activists and opposition members, however, have expressed 
serious misgivings that these provisions will be interpreted 
loosely and be used against them to stifle even legitimate 
dissent. 
. 
--------------------------------------------- --------- 
AMENDMENTS TO LAW ON BASIC GUARANTEES OF VOTING RIGHTS 
--------------------------------------------- --------- 
 
4. (SBU) Duma deputies from United Russia, the Liberal 
Democratic Party (LDPR), and Rodina faction leader Aleksandr 
Babakov, proposed substantial changes to Russia's fundamental 
electoral law "On Basic Guarantees of Voting Rights."  The 
bill had its first reading on July 8 and will be considered 
further during the Duma's autumn session, which begins on 
September 3.  One amendment widens criteria for removing 
political parties or individuals from electoral races and 
 
MOSCOW 00007666  002 OF 003 
 
 
works in tandem with the newly broadened definition of 
"extremism."  According to the draft bill, if a politician 
conducts "extremist activities" before or during an election 
campaign, and this activity is confirmed by a court, the 
offending politician's party could be denied registration for 
its whole list of candidates or denied a sea
t in parliament. 
Political parties would be allowed two violations followed by 
a ban.  These penalties could be applied at any time during 
the legislative term. 
 
5.  (SBU) Another amendment brings back early voting - a 
procedure that Russia had already tried and abandoned, and 
which critics fear could allow easy manipulation of election 
results.  The amendment states that if a voter has a valid 
reason (vacation, business trip, illness) that prevents him 
from voting on election day, he can vote up to five days 
early.  Another provision in the bill increases from 25 to 35 
the number of reasons for denying registration to a candidate 
or party.  Omitting any of the items in required 
administrative and financial documents and reports could 
result in denial of registration.  The same penalty would 
apply to candidates or parties who provide "incomplete" or 
"improperly presented" documents, although the two concepts 
are not clearly defined in the bill. 
. 
----------------------- 
"AGAINST ALL" AMENDMENT 
----------------------- 
 
6. (SBU) An amendment abolishing the &against all 
candidates8 option was passed by both houses and signed into 
law by Putin on July 12.  In recent elections, opposition 
parties had encouraged voters to register their protest by 
checking "against all."  In the 2003 Duma election, "against 
all" came in fifth place, with 4.7 percent of the vote, on a 
ballot of 23 parties and blocs. In the 2004 presidential 
election, "against all" again took fifth place, with 3.45 
percent of the vote, on a ballot of six candidates. 
 
7. (SBU) Stoking fears that "against all" voting could 
disrupt upcoming elections at the federal level, a recent 
Levada Center poll reported that 18 percent of respondents 
would vote the protest option were the presidential election 
held today.  Critics of the measure have pointed out that 
voter turnout probably will suffQ with removal of the 
option.  Some observers believe that United Russia, however, 
could benefit from a lower turnout, assuming would-be protest 
voters simply decided to stay home. 
 
8. (SBU) Discussion of the "against all" option has been 
lively and public.  At a meeting of the November 4 Political 
Discussion Club on June 28, Chairman of the Federation 
Council Sergey Mironov spoke out against elimination of the 
"against all" option, saying that it would not help anyone 
and it was a serious strategic error on United Russia's part. 
 Vladimir Pligin, chairman of the Duma Committee on 
Constitutional Law and State-Building, simply said it was 
"justified." Valeriy Fadeyev, chief editor of Ekspert 
magazine and Public Chamber member said the "against all" 
option was a political anachronism that encouraged apathy and 
irresponsibility.  However, Igor Zadorin from the ZIRCON 
think tank said that "the extent of voting against all 
candidates has served to alert authorities to danger signs," 
and "it offered a venting opportunity for the protest vote." 
. 
---------------------------- 
CHANGING FACTIONS PROHIBITED 
---------------------------- 
 
9.  (SBU) On July 12, Putin signed into law amendments 
prohibiting (under threat of losing seats) deputies in the 
Duma and regional parliaments from including members of one 
party on the electoral list of another party before 
elections. The measure also would ban politicians from 
changing factions after they have been elected.  After the 
2003 elections, many single-mandate deputies joined United 
Russia or switched allegiance to other parties.  According to 
one of the bill's authors, Deputy Aleksandr Kharitonov, the 
amendments were not a move against the opposition or small 
parties, but an attempt to prevent "people from running from 
one party to another."  However, independent Deputy Vladimir 
Ryzhkov objected that "this bill turns deputies into serfs" 
and Boris Nadezhdin, deputy head of the Union of Right Forces 
(SPS) agreed, saying, "On the one hand, United Russia wants 
to prevent its deputies from leaving the party, but on the 
other hand, they also want to complicate the rules for small 
opposition parties to get into the Duma." 
. 
---------------------------- 
REACTIONS TO NEW LEGISLATION 
---------------------------- 
 
 
MOSCOW 00007666  003 OF 003 
 
 
10.  (SBU) Despite their hurried passage, these amendments 
have been widely criticized by both pro-Kremlin and 
opposition forces.  At a June 28 meeting of the November 4 
Political Discussion Club, the founder of the Club, Valeriy 
Fadeyev, concluded that "we are moving toward a stronger 
party system."  Opposition deputy Sergey Popov, criticizing 
the amendments, said "If before the Communist Party of the 
Soviet Union was building communism, now United Russia is 
building "unirussism"."  Boris Nadezhdin, federal policy 
council secretary for SPS, complained that the current 
amendments were passed too quickly without allowing for 
adequate debate or discourse.  Aleksey Makarkin, an analyst 
with the Political Technology Center, said the reforms were 
based on maximum controllability, along with maximum 
consolidation, so that eventually only a few parties will 
remain. 
 
11. (C) The most prominent critic of the new legislation is 
Central Election Commission Chair Aleksandr Veshnyakov, who 
has spoken out privately and publicly against most of the 
measures.  In a July 12 meeting with EUR A/S Fried, 
Veshnyakov flatly stated that the proposed amendments to 
Russia's election laws were unnecessary and even dangerous to 
Russian democracy.  Veshnyakov said amendments to the law on 
extremism went too far, to the point that even criticism of 
the government could be found to be extremist and lead to a 
ban on a party or candidate.  He said that a whole party 
should not be held accountable for one person.  If a party's 
policy program contains signs of extremism, the party should 
be punished.  But when it is an individual candidate, the 
punishment should be meted out to the individual, not the 
party. 
 
12. (C) Veshnyakov commented that the removal of the "against 
all" option from the ballot would not only limit voters' 
freedom of choice, but could also reduce voter turnout. 
Reinstating early voting would revert back to the 
problem-filled previous system, opening the way for possible 
manipulation of voting.  He added that there were still 
opportunities to defeat these amendments in the legislative 
process, or later, to challenge them in court.  Veshnyakov 
hinted that if the amendments were enacted, he would likely 
step down at the end of his term in spring 2007. 
. 
------- 
COMMENT 
------- 
 
13.  (C) Observers nearly unanimously point to United Russia 
as the source for these new measures in an attempt to further 
bolster the party's already strong position in the run-up to 
the 2007 Duma and 2008 presidential elections.  Ves
hnyakov 
and Vladimir Lukin's Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman 
have been among the most scathing critics of the measures. 
Their criticism reflects the fact that the amendments were 
hastily drawn up and poorly conceived.  While we believe that 
Veshnyakov is sincere in his desire to roll back these 
amendments, it is obviously going to be difficult to overturn 
those already signed into law by Putin. 
BURNS

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