State Duma

MOSCOW — The Russian parliament on Wednesday passed a Kremlin bill restoring gubernatorial elections, with opponents saying the new law will still allow the president to screen out undesirable candidates.

The 450-seat State Duma, the elected lower house, approved the bill with a majority of 237 votes.
President Dmitry Medvedev submitted the bill in response to massive protests against his mentor Vladimir Putin in the run-up to the March election that gave Putin a third presidential term.

Putin had scrapped direct elections of provincial governors during his presidency as part of a systematic rollback of democratic freedoms.

While the president will no longer appoint Russia’s governors, the new law will give him the right to “consult” with potential candidates or the parties nominating them.

Candidates will also have to receive formal backing from 5 to 10 percent of the members of local legislatures, depending on the region.

“It will be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for an opposition candidate to become governor,” said Communist lawmaker Anatoly Lokot.

Yelena Mizulina of the leftist Just Russia party said the bill was a throwback to the Soviet era, when all candidates were approved by the Communist Party.

“The government’s fear of people and direct elections lies in the foundation of that bill,” she said.

The State Duma is dominated by the Kremlin party, United Russia, which holds a majority of the seats. The bill must still be approved by the upper house and signed by Medvedev, steps regarded as formalities.

Medvedev’s reforms also include bills easing registration requirements for political parties and liberalizing election rules. Those steps have been welcomed by the opposition, but the next election to the national parliament is five years away.

Printed on Thursday, April 26, 2012 as: Russian law increases presidential power

A member of the pro-Kremlin youth movement Stal wearing a Darth Vader mask participates in a rally in downtown Moscow on Tuesday. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said he’s satisfied with the performance of his party in Russia’s parliamentary election even though it lost a significant number of seats, adding that a drop in support is “inevitable” for any ruling party.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

MOSCOW — Police clashed with demonstrators protesting alleged election fraud in Moscow and at least two other major Russian cities on Tuesday as anger boiled over against strongman Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his United Russia party.

At least 250 people were detained by police at a protest in downtown Moscow that included fireworks thrown at a group of pro-Kremlin youth, said city police spokesman Maxim Kolosvetov.

Russian news agencies reported about 200 were arrested at a similar attempt to hold an unsanctioned rally in St. Petersburg and another 25 in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don. The Moscow protest ended after around 3 1/2 hours and the others were broken up by police.

It was the second consecutive night of large protests in Moscow and St. Petersburg, an unusually sustained show of indignation as Russian police routinely crack down hard on unauthorized rallies, and protesters generally take time to regroup for a new attempt.

The protests follow Sunday’s parliamentary election, in which United Russia lost a share of the seats it had held in the State Duma. The party maintains a reduced majority, but opponents say even that came because of vote fraud.

Local and international election observers reported widespread ballot-stuffing and irregularities in the vote count.

The protesters appear to be both angered by the reported fraud and energized by the vote’s show of declining support for Putin and his party, which has strongly overshadowed all other political forces in Russia for the past dozen years.

But pro-Kremlin supporters also put on a pair of large rallies in Moscow, attracting thousands and showing vehement divisions in Russian society.

The Moscow protest demonstrated the violent potential of those divisions.

Several hundred young men with emblems of United Russia had gathered with police at Triumphal Square in the city center ahead of the planned opposition rally. Police waded into several groups of opposition supporters, pushing them away from the square — roughly grabbing many and throwing them into police vehicles. Detainees included prominent opposition leaders Boris Nemtsov and Eduard Limonov.

After the protesters were pushed back, they and government supporters shouted at each other — “Shame, shame” was the call from the opposition, while the others, some of whom beat drums, shouted “Putin victory.” Members of the pro-authorities group gravitated toward the nearby Tchaikovsky Concert Hall, continuing to chant and bang drums. Then at least two flare-type fireworks were thrown into their midst.

It was unclear who threw the devices or if anyone was injured. The confrontation lasted more than three hours before pro-government youth began leaving.

About a half-mile away, around 100 demonstrators chanting against Putin held a short march from the U.S. Embassy toward the Russian White House, but scattered when police arrived.

A heavy police presence was visible throughout the city, including several police trucks parked around Pushkin Square, another popular demonstration site.

United Russia won slightly less than 50 percent of Sunday’s vote, according to nearly complete preliminary results. Although that gives the party an absolute majority in the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, it is a significant drop from the 2007 election when the party got a two-thirds majority, enough to change the constitution unchallenged.

Sunday’s election results reflect public fatigue with Putin’s authoritarian streak and with official corruption in Russia, signaling that his return to the presidency in next March’s election may not be as trouble-free as he expected.

Putin, meanwhile, called his party’s reduced number of seats in Sunday’s parliamentary election an “inevitable” result of voters always being dissatisfied with the party in power. He also dismissed allegations of corruption among his United Russia party members.