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Cablegate: Tougher Environment for Parties As Elections

VZCZCXRO5425
RR RUEHDBU RUEHLN RUEHPOD RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHMO #2043/01 1240938
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 040938Z MAY 07
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 9906
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE
RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEHLN/AMCONSUL ST PETERSBURG 4046
RUEHYG/AMCONSUL YEKATERINBURG 2415
RUEHVK/AMCONSUL VLADIVOSTOK 2092

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 MOSCOW 002043

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL KDEM PINR RS
SUBJECT: TOUGHER ENVIRONMENT FOR PARTIES AS ELECTIONS
APPROACH

REF: A. 06 MOSCOW 11388

B. 06 MOSCOW 12498

MOSCOW 00002043 001.2 OF 003


1. (SBU) Summary: Since the 2003 State Duma elections, the
legislative environment for the December 2007 State Duma
elections has changed significantly:

-- registration of political parties and their inclusion
in the ballots for elections have become more complicated;

-- the deposit to be paid by parties not wanting to
collect signatures has increased significantly;

-- this will be the first federal election that will be
based solely on party lists;

-- the opportunities for parties to campaign aggressively
have been reduced by prohibitions against "negative"
advertising and the law on extremism;

-- the "against all" option on the ballot has been removed;

-- there is no minimum voter turnout required for an
election to be valid;

-- parties must win at least seven percent of the vote to
enter the Duma, up from five percent in 2003; and,

-- election monitors not sponsored by political parties or
having the status of a journalist have largely been excluded.

These changes, and the pervasive use of administrative
resources, are seen by opposition parties to have created a
controlled election process that favors incumbents. End
summary.

---------------------------------
Party Registration More Difficult
---------------------------------

2. (SBU) Although technically possible, it is unlikely that
any new parties will be registered or that any de-registered
parties will be re-registered in time for the December 2007
Duma elections. Thanks to 2006 amendments to the election
law, registering a political party now requires the
signatures of at least 50,000 members -- only 10,000 were
necessary to register for the 2003 elections -- and a party
must have at least 500 members, compared to 100 in 2003, in
more than half of Russia's 86 regions. This creates a
formidable barrier for any new party, or a party without
broad organizational resources, to overcome. The Federal
Registration Service (FRS) has been scrupulous in assuring
adherence to the law. Nine parties have been de-registered
since it came into effect on January 1, 2007, with an
additional sixteen failing to meet the new requirements.
Still, sixteen parties remain eligible to participate in the
December Duma elections.

---------------------
Getting on the Ballot
---------------------

3. (SBU) There are three ways to qualify for the ballot:
being represented in the current Duma; depositing RUR 60
million (USD 2.4 million), which is returned if the party
receives at least four percent of the vote; or gathering at
least 200 thousand signatures, with no more that 14 thousand
from any one region. The first category has conferred prima
facie election participation on United Russia, For A Just
Russia (which qualifies as a party represented in the current
Duma by assuming the mantle of Rodina, one of its three
founding parties), LDPR, and the Communist Party (KPRF).
Remaining contenders, such as the Union of Right Forces
(SPS), Yabloko, and Patriots of Russia, will need to gather
signatures or pay the pledge in order to qualify for the
December contest. In the March 2007 regional elections, few
parties chose to pay the deposit, which was quite high. (In
St. Petersburg, the election deposit was RUR 90 million,
about USD 3.6 million.) The high deposit and close scrutiny
of signature petitions can act as a de facto barrier to
participation by minor parties. (In the March 11 regional
elections, the St. Petersburg regional election commission,
backed by the Central Election Commission (CEC) and the
courts, held that more than the required threshold of ten
percent of Yabloko's signatures were false, leading to the
party's disqualification.) Calls from former CEC Chairman
Aleksandr Veshnyakov and others to remove the need for

MOSCOW 00002043 002.2 OF 003


parties registered with the FRS to qualify separately with
election commissions for each election have so far gone
unheeded.

----------------
Party Lists Only
----------------

4. (SBU) The 2007 Duma election will be the first federal
party list only election. In 2003, there were single-mandate
districts and party lists, which enabled locally
well-regarded politicians to run and win, despite weak party
ties. Now prospective Duma deputies will need above all to
convince party leaders of their merits in order to be
elected. Recently-enacted "harmonizing" legislation has
introduced a new method for making up party lists. The new
system envisions a "federal" party list, plus 80 separate
"regional" lists, each of which must consist of at least
three candidates. Since the "regional" lists are not
actually tied to regions, parties are free to demarcate their
regions as they see fit, which essentially appears to allow
each party to devise its own 80 individually gerrymandered
districts.

5. (SBU) The 2007 electoral amendments also specify that if
a party fields less than 75 regional party lists, it may be
disqualified altogether. In effect, a registered party can
be taken off the ballot if it fails to field full party lists
in only six of the eighty regions. In other words, only six
candidates (one from each of six regional party lists) need
to have made some mistake in their registration documents in
order for the entire party to lose its shot at Duma
representation.

-----------
Campaigning
-----------

6. (SBU) Once on the ballot, amendments that prevent
"negative" campaigning and allow candidates to be removed
from the ballot and media to be ultimately de-registered for
"extremism" (an ill-defined term) may be employed. The March
regional elections suggested a propensity on the part of
candidates and parties to cry "extremism" at almost any
expression of disagreement with the status quo. The regional
media, concerned about losing their licenses, have often
refrained from covering elections in any but the blandest
terms in spite of, in some cases, being encouraged by their
regional election commissions to step into the fray.

------------
Election Day
------------

7. (SBU) The major changes affecting election day include
the removal of the "against all" option from the ballot,
abolishment of the minimum voter turnout requirement, and a
requirement that a party receive seven percent, as opposed to
five percent, of the vote in order to win Duma
representation. Both the removal of "against all" and of the
minimum voter turnout requirements were strongly opposed by
Veshnyakov, who charged that they would make Russians feel
that citizen participation was not wanted or needed. Many
also worried that low voter turnout could cause some to
question the legitimacy of the elections. Supporters have
noted that the Russian Constitution offers Russian citizens
the right, but not the duty, to participate.

8. (SBU) Finally, parties may invite whomever they like to
observe elections, but the law makes no provision for
independent election observers. NGOs which intend to observe
elections may do so only if sponsored by parties represented
on the ballot. The two major pro-Kremlin parties, United
Russia and A Just Russia, have to date been unwilling to
sponsor NGO observers. Some NGOs have indicated that they
may attempt to have their observers accredited as
journalists, who may observe elections, in order to sidestep
the restriction on unaffiliated observers.

------------------------
Administrative Resources
------------------------

9. (SBU) Although not addressed by legislation, the use of
"administrative resources" is considered an important
election factor. According to sources, administrative
resources range from university professors being required to

MOSCOW 00002043 003.2 OF 003


make their students vote (on penalty of bad grades/loss of
jobs), polling stations at one-factory towns being located on
site to make sure that everyone votes correctly, as well as
the use of GOR facilities for campaign activity. While
administrative resources are less effective in cities, where
the majority of Russia's population lives, United Russia's
pluralities in the countryside in recent regional elections
suggest that they remain a factor.

-------
Comment
-------

10. (SBU) It appears that amendments to Russian electoral
legislation since the 2003 elections have been crafted in
order to ensure a managed process that favors incumbent
parties. The changes provide the Federal Registration
Service and regional election commissions with ample, legal
reasons to disqualify parties should they choose to do so.
Amendments to the law on extremism, so far, have further
discouraged aggressive media coverage of the elections. The
elimination of the "against all" box on the ballot has made
it less simple for voters to register their rejection of the
menu of parties offered. With the December Duma election
campaign already informally underway, it appears that four
parties have had the resources and organizational structures
necessary to remain in the race. A fifth party, the Union of
Right Forces, could cross the seven percent threshold to
representation. The remaining registered parties have little
prospect of making it into the Duma.
BURNS

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