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Experts from Council of Europe Call on Russia to Change Law on Parties and Elections

Source: (info), 19/03/12

· Electoral rights

Russian laws on parties and parliamentary elections do not correspond to the requirements of the European Convention on Human Rights. This is the conclusion of the Venice Commission, a consultative body of the Council of Europe in the field of constitutional law.

Deutsche Welle reports that the experts have criticised the Russian system of state control over parties. The Venice Commission states in its analysis: “It should not be a function of the state to monitor every aspect of the life of a political party.”

The experts have recommended amendments to the provisions concerning the minimal size of membership of parties and the existence of regional branches. In accordance with the draft of a new bill on political parties, which is to be voted on in March, the minimum membership for a party has been reduced to 500 persons. The state will still possess a range of mechanisms to arbitrarily refuse registration, representatives of the extra-parliamentary opposition say.

The Council of Europe’s experts also stressed that the electoral commissions should be independent. Because of this, the recommendations say, there is a necessity to change the provisions regarding their membership, with particular regard to the regulations for the appointment of members.

In addition, reports that the Venice Commission has called upon the Russian authorities to observe civil rights in relation to large gatherings and not to obstruct the freedom of assembly. The European experts pointed out that spontaneous and urgent meetings, and also demonstrations and protest actions, “should be allowed as long as they are peaceful and do not pose direct threats of violence or serious danger to public safety.”

On Tuesday the State Duma must consider in its second reading the bill on political parties. This week Konstantin Merzlikin, representative of PARNAS (the Party of National Freedom), resigned from the working party on the reform bills, calling the reforms “a profanity.” Merzlikin said that, in the bill on political parties, not one of the principle amendments proposed by the opposition had been included.

Merzlikin was told about the fate of the amendments jointly put forward by PARNAS, the Russian People’s Democratic Union and Left Front, on the eve of the session of the State Duma Committee concerned. Merzlikin said: “First of all what is at issue is a simplified procedure for registering parties, and guarantees of real independence for the parties.” Representatives of the extra-parliamentary also sought the possibility of forming electoral blocs. Meanwhile at the Ministry of Justice at least seventy applications to set up political parties have been received from organising committees. In Merzlikin’s words:”One gets the impression that the government has set itself the task of registering a maximum number of parties by the time of the autumn elections.” And Merzlikin added: “This will be a new mechanism for the subtle manipulation of the political arena.”