Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Party List Voting to Cut Non-Russian Representation in Next Duma

Paul Goble

Vienna, August 28 – Everyone involved in the decision to shift from single-member districts to party list voting in the next Duma elections was aware that the new system was unlikely to lead to the election of as many deputies who viewed themselves as representatives of particular federation subjects.
But now, as the elections approach and as more details of the ways in which the party list system will work are surfacing, ever more people especially in non-Russian regions are beginning to focus on the ways in which the new arrangements threaten to deprive them of an important link with Moscow.
Last week, “Vedomosti” featured an article reporting on the concerns of officials in the restive republics of the northern Caucasus that the new system would mean that only Daghestanis and Chechens would be represented in the next Duma, with other groups effectively frozen out (http://www.chechensociety.net/articles_716.html).
Not surprisingly, the “losers” are not happy about this, and their anger may contribute to the further radicalization of their nations, even if as expected the party list system promotes the tighter integration of the Great-Russian nation as a whole (on this expectation, see http://www.apn.ru/publications/print17631.htm).
But Abdul-Khakim Sultygov, who serves as the coordinator for nationality policy and ties with religious groups for the pro-Kremlin United Russia Party, dismissed both the prediction that the north Caucasians and other non-Russian groups would be less well represented and the notion that this might radicalize anyone.
The North Caucasus will not have “one place less” than it does now, he said, even if there will no longer be a strict correspondence between the ethnicity of a region and the that of its representative. Indeed, he asked rhetorically, “Why must the representative from Ingushetia be an Ingush?” Wouldn’t it be better if the most popular person won?
And he pointed out that party list elections are explicitly intended “not to attach people like serfs to their own ethnic or any other region.” Instead, such voting arrangements are intended to underscore that “we are all citizens of one country and our party is equally popular on the entire territory of Russia.”
But whether all those in the regions and especially in the North Caucasus will agree remains very much an open question, and that reality something even the pro-Kremlin politician would not deny in turn means that what he hopes will help to unify the Russian Federation will have exactly the opposite effect.

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