October 15, 2007
New Law to Reduce Referendum Rights
By Natalya Krainova
Voters could lose much of their say in the country's affairs under a bill backed by pro-Kremlin party United Russia that would drastically reduce the range of issues eligible for a national referendum.
Authors of the bill, which the State Duma passed last week in a first reading, said it was necessary to prevent public discord, while critics said it would give authorities the right selectively to ban any referendum.
"There is, for example, a group of disgruntled people who get together and begin to disrupt society," United Russia deputy Alexander Moskalets, one of the bill's authors, said Friday. "We don't need this."
The bill is tentatively scheduled for a crucial second reading next month.
The Communists have been trying for two years now to hold a national referendum on federal budget issues, but to no avail. The Constitutional Court in March, however, ruled that the party had a right to call for such a plebiscite.
But under the new bill, it is unclear on which issues they could call for a nationwide vote.
The bill would ban referendums on issues falling within the "exclusive jurisdiction of government bodies," a vague description that leaves room for broad interpretation, experts at the Duma's legal department said, Vedomosti reported Friday.
It could leave voters with no chance for a direct say in issues ranging from the federal budget, taxation, international treaties, border agreements and declarations of war, Vedomosti said.
Communist Duma Deputy Viktor Tyulkin said the bill was merely a further attempt by the ruling party to consolidate power in the hands of "an elite segment of the population."
"The people have a right to decide their fate," Tyulkin said.
Moskalets said it would be unthinkable to allow voters a direct say in how the federal budget is drawn up.
"Even in small groups of people it is next to impossible to reach agreement on such a complicated issue," he said. "This could create a volatile state in society. Only issues of a general nature should be put to a referendum."
The Constitution is one example of a question that should be decided by popular referendum, Moskalets said. The current Constitution was approved by a national referendum on Dec. 12, 1993.
The bill must still pass in second and third readings in the Duma, before being sent to the Federation Council for approval and, finally, to the president to be signed into law.
The second reading will likely be held within the next four weeks, a United Russia spokesman said Friday.
A number of local referendums have been held in recent years to approve the amalgamation of neighboring regions.
n A domestic human rights group has published a report maintaining that every major opposition street protest organized in 2007 was either prohibited or dispersed by authorities, Kommersant reported Friday.
The report, titled "Freedom of Assembly in Modern Russia," was published Thursday by the nongovernmental organization Legal Team, which was formed last year by members of several human rights nongovernmental organizations.