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Cablegate: Backlash to Duma Amendments Proposing Restrictions On

VZCZCXRO2939
RR RUEHDBU RUEHLN RUEHPOD RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHMO #5205 3031404
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 301404Z OCT 07
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 4922
INFO RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE
RUEHVK/AMCONSUL VLADIVOSTOK 2498
RUEHYG/AMCONSUL YEKATERINBURG 2803
RUEHLN/AMCONSUL ST PETERSBURG 4648

UNCLAS MOSCOW 005205

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV KDEM PHUM RS
SUBJECT: BACKLASH TO DUMA AMENDMENTS PROPOSING RESTRICTIONS ON
REFERENDUMS

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Summary
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1. (U) Amendments to the "law on referendums" which are working
their way through the State Duma, would greatly restrict if not
abolish the right of Russian citizens to express their views through
national plebiscites. The amendments, offered by three members of
the ruling United Russia party, had their first reading in early
October and could be approved by the Duma and sent to the Federation
Council by mid-November. Human rights advocates see the amendments
as a way to limit citizen participation in government. The
Constitutional Court has already commented that the Duma has no
right to restrict the use of referendums by citizens. End summary.


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Weakening the Law on Referendums
--------------------------------

2. (U) Amendments to the law on referendums, which had their first
reading in the State Duma on October 11, would ban the use of
referendums on issues that come under "exclusive jurisdiction of
government bodies." Under the Constitution, citizens have the right
to participate in government through referendums. Article 32 of the
Constitution states: "Citizens of the Russian Federation shall have
the right to elect and to be elected to bodies of state governance
and to organs of local self-government, as well as take part in a
referendum."

3. (SBU) The amendments are currently in the Duma's Committee on
Constitutional Legislation and State Building. According to news
reports, the amendments could have their second and final readings
by mid-November. Supporters of the bill have said that the
amendments are needed to "prevent public discord." The use of legal
referendums in Russia to date has been limited. Referendums were
used to approve the mergers of several of Russia's regions. The
communists and liberals have most often tried to use referendums to
make policy but their attempts have typically failed.

------------------------------------
Restricting the Right to Participate
------------------------------------

4. (SBU) Human rights advocates are opposed to the bill. Human
Rights Watch's Allison Gill said the amendments effectively would
abolish the use of referendums. William Smirnov, a member of the
President's Human Rights Council agreed and told us the legislation
contradicts the Constitution-enshrined right to hold referendums.
Smirnov predicted that the amendments will be changed because, from
a legal perspective, they are not well written. Although their
purpose was obvious - to substantially reduce the right to use
referendums -- he believed the bill was too sensitive to be passed
so easily. Smirnov speculated that its supporters may have
intentionally proposed extreme language in order to ensure that any
compromise that emerges would scale back citizens' ability to use
referendums.

5. (U) In a rare comment on pending legislation, the Constitutional
Court opined that deputies have "no right to abolish or severely
restrict the right of citizens to participate in referendums." This
was only the second time the Constitutional Court has commented
prior to a law being enacted. The first time was when the Duma was
considering the Court's move to St. Petersburg. The opinion of the
Constitutional Court does not have legal bearing at this stage;
however, the fact that they chose to comment sends a strong signal
that the amendments, if passed as is, could have trouble if
challenged in court.

6. (SBU) A week after the first reading of the amendments, the civic
youth movement "Oborona" staged a protest in front of the State
Duma. They handed out flyers which blamed United Russia for trying
to take away this last possible route for citizens to have a say in
the life of the country. Embassy observed five members of Oborona
being detained by police.

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Comment
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7. (SBU) In addition to the Constitutional Court's comments, the
proposal to restrict referendums has prompted much negative
commentary in the press. It is possible that the reaction may stop
the adoption of the amendments, or postpone it until after the
campaign, which culminates in Duma elections December 2.

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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