Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Window on Eurasia: ‘Pluralism’ in Chuvash Parliament Just for Show, Expert Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 2 – More parties are represented the current Chuvash State Council than ever before, but United Russia, the country’s ruling party, is running roughshod over both them and the established rules, thereby reducing the authority of the parliament in the eyes of the population and exacerbating tensions in the republic, according to a legal expert.

            In an article in today’s “Irekle Samakh,” that Middle Volga republic’s independent newspaper, Igor Mikhailov, a lawyer who serves as coordinator of Civic Initiatives there, explicitly says that “the political pluralism declared by the Constitution exists only on paper and does not correspond to reality” (irekle.org/articles/i40.html).

            The current composition of the republic’s State Council is the most diverse in history, he notes, with 32 deputies of United Russia, four from the KPRF, two from the LDPR and five from Just Russia, but that diversity is just for show as any survey of the council’s operation will show and as Chuvashia residents are increasingly aware.

            United Russia, despite the rules under which the council has operated in the past, has done everything it can to keep the representatives of other parties from playing any role, Mikhaylov says. Indeed, United Russia deputies control all key posts, and often they have not even informed the others about meetings, agendas, or even the content of key legislation.

            The other parties have thus had to find out what is going on independently and through the Internet, he continues, but sometimes even that source has not been sufficiently detailed for them to fulfill their responsibilities. The population sees this, and it is increasingly angry about what is going on.

            In order to give their actions the appearance of legality, United Russia deputies pushed through a new set of rules that allow them to do pretty much what they want and to ignore the rights of the representatives of other parties.  The latter have appealed to the Russian president and his plenipotentiary in the region but without much success.

            A watershed moment came a year ago when “representatives of the opposition walked out of the hall in protest” when United Russia deputies voted to refuse to allow the author of a bill to speak on its behalf, and another came in February when United Russia rammed through a bill without the required hearings in committee.

            But perhaps the most serious violation of law and the constitution occurred, Mikhailov says, when United Russia ensured that other deputies did not know the content of a measure which in fact changed the constitution of the republic by dropping references to Chuvashia as “a state” with the Russian Federation.

            The Committee of Civic Initiatives in Chuvashia “considers that such an approach … without open consideration, without discussion, and without a public assessment” contradicts the fundamental principles of parliamentarianism” and must be changed, the legal specialist continues.

            The Chuvash population appears to agree. Trust in the State Council of Chuvashia is now “catastrophically low.”  More than a quarter of the population says that it does not trust the parliament to represent its interests, nearly half say they find it difficult to answer that question, and only a quarter say they do trust the deputies.

            The republic’s legislators do little legislating, Mikhailov says.  It is dead last among republic legislatures in the entire Russian Federation in that regard. Instead, United Russia deputies, using their dominant position, simply work to bring all of the republic’s laws into correspondence with federal legislation.

            Because of United Russia’s approach, the Chuvash State Council “has not held a single parliamentary hearing or allowed representatives of political parties not represented in the council to speak, despite Russian and Chuvash legislation that requires precisely that at least once a year.

            Moreover, the public councils that Russian law calls for, such as the Social Chamber, Experts Council, and Youth Parliament, remain dead letters in the republic seldom if ever meeting and never consulted as Russian law requires by the United Russia-dominated State Council.

            Finally, Mikhailov notes, Chuvash residents cannot even find out how the deputies voted. The deputies use an electronic system “which does not identify” how each voted, thus violating yet another principle of parliamentary life and depriving the population of exactly the kind of information it needs to make an informed choice in elections.

            To remedy this situation, the lawyer offers eight proposals that essentially call for the State Council to operate according to the law, ensure that all fractions are fully informed and involved in its work, and provide more information to the population about what it and its individual members are doing.

            Unless there is a fundamental change of heart on the part of the United Russia majority, however, there seems little chance of any of them being adopted.  And thus in one small Middle Volga republic, the undemocratic actions of that ruling party go a long way to explaining why it is increasingly discredited not only there but across the Russian Federation.

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