Vienna, December 14 – A Kremlin plan to reduce the size of regional parliaments could lead to a new round of instability in non-Russian regions not only by destroying the often carefully worked-out balance of ethnic representation in them but also by causing some politicians forced from office to link up with extra-systemic opponents of Moscow.
The dangers of such a step have already been demonstrated in Daghestan, where Vladimir Putin’s decision to eliminate Lebanon-style ethnic quotas in the government and parliament has transformed that hitherto remarkably stable republic into the most violent place in the entire North Caucasus.
And today, given the growing tensions in both formally bi-national republics like Karachayevo-Cherkessia and Kabardino-Balkaria and others like Tatarstan, Bashkortostan and the Altai where the ethnic mix of the population is changing, this plan, if the Duma as expected goes along with it, could contribute to even more tension in even more places.
In today’s “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” journalist Elina Bilevskaya reports that the Kremlin will be sending to the Duma “before the end of the year” a draft law that would divide the regions and republics into four groups depending on population size and direct each of them to have a specific size of legislature (www.ng.ru/politics/2009-12-14/1_parlamenty.html).
For the smallest republics and regions, legislatures would have only 15 deputies, while the largest could have as many as 110. But according to Bilevskaya’s sources, “almost all the national republics will have to reduce [and in some cases significantly] the number of the deputies in their legislative assemblies.”
The appearance of this proposal is not entirely unexpected. In his message to the Federal Assembly, President Dmitry Medvedev said that the arrangements for the legislative assemblies in the regions needed to “be put in order” because “the number of deputies in the subjects of the Federation” had been set “in an arbitrary fashion.”
Moscow, with its enormous population, has only 35 deputies, while tiny and largely mono-ethnic Tyva has 162. Under the new rules, Moscow would have to boost the number of deputies – tensions between the Kremlin and Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov may in fact be behind this legislation ---and Tyva would have to cut the size of its legislative assembly.”
Bilevskaya reports that “the size of the deputy corps will have to change in approximately 20 subjects of the Federation,” with some, as in Moscow, increased, and others, most non-Russian republics, cut. North Ossetia, for example, would see its legislature reduced by at least 20 deputies to meet the draft law’s requirements.
Given the obvious problems this will create for some of the deputies, the draft calls for phasing in its provisions over several years, with the new rules “not applying to existing parliamentarians,” although it is unclear how the size of legislative assemblies could be reduced if that provision in fact goes into force.
Elena Dubrovina of the Central Election Commission, told “Nezavisimaya” that she did not think it was a good idea to drag things out. “If the law goes into effect, let us assume in two years, then in the course of this period will be elected almost all regional parliaments.” And that means that in reality, the law “in the best case” would not take full effect for seven years.
But some political activists are already opposed to the law as such. Boris Nadezhdin of the “Right Task” group said that he opposed this measure for the North Caucasus. “I do not understand why Tyva needs 162 deputies given its ethnic homogeneity. But in the Caucasus, with a large number of languages and nationalities “it would be much better not to cut.”
Curiously, and likely exceptionally, some from that region say they favor the idea on financial grounds. Gariy Kuchiyev, a deputy of the North Ossetian parliament, said he thought it would be a good thing because then the people would not have to pay so much in taxes to support so many deputies.