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Duma Votes to Send Russia Back to “Old Days” of One-Party Rule

MosNews | October 13 2004

Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma, voted in favor of allowing ministers to lead political parties Wednesday, raising fears that Soviet-style one-party rule is making a comeback, Reuters writes.

The Duma passed the bill by 344-69, with 13 abstentions, at the third reading with support from all parties except the Commmunists, who, in an odd reversal of history, argued against the bill on the grounds that it would mean a return to the ways of the Soviet Union.

“What’s being proposed is a return to the old days, when even the man in charge of the bath-house couldn’t be appointed without the party’s say-so,” Communist deputy Sergei Reshulsky said.

But Vladimir Pligin, chairman of the Duma’s constitutional committee, said existing law put too many restrictions on members of the government and should be scaled back. He also said Russia’s history showed that parties were a force for good.

“We note the positive experience of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, which permeated the whole of society. Unfortunately, it was unique in this respect,” he told the Duma.

“We have an interest in having several political groups, political parties, which permeate and involve all parts of society,” he said.

Some commentators fear the reform, which is likely to sail through the Federation Council, the upper house of parliament, could spell a return to the strict party discipline which the Russian constitution cast off after the fall of communism in 1991.

The State Duma profile committee on constitutional legislation and state construction said in regard to the bill that it did not “contradict the Russian Constitution, and its adoption would not demand changes introduced to the current legislation”.

State Duma Vice Speaker Vladimir Pekhtin (United Russia) was quoted by Russian Information Agency Novosti as saying debates about lifting the restriction for government members to take posts in political parties had been started long ago.

Both houses of parliament are already dominated by Kremlin loyalists, and President Vladimir Putin wants power to appoint regional governors as well as cabinet members.

“Very soon, and without amending the Constitution at all, we may have not only a one-party cabinet ... but also a one-party ruling hierarchy, covering all levels of government,” commentator Yevgeny Zherebenikov wrote in Itogi magazine.

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