Staunton, April 6 – In yet another reflection of the declining importance of regional legislative assemblies and of the ruling United Russia party’s desire to control their work, ever more of these legislatures are reducing the number of full-time and fully-paid deputies and increasing the share of those whose primary employment is elsewhere.
In today’s “Novyye izvestiya,” journalist Ekaterina Dyatlovskaya says the ostensible reason behind the cutbacks is saving money but the result has been a reduction in links between voters and their representatives, increasing corruption among the latter, and greater control by United Russia (newizv.ru/politics/2016-04-06/237340-zakonotvorchestvo-kak-hobbi.html).
According to incomplete data, the journalist continues, “on average in Russia’s regions, only a quarter of deputies receive pay” for their work as legislators, a figure that has been falling and one that is forcing them to maintain employment elsewhere and reducing their ability to represent their constituents.
In a few places, St. Petersburg and Chechnya, for example, all the legislators are paid for their work and are expected to be fulltime; but even in Moscow, more than half – 27 of 45 – are part-time at best. And the fact that there are some paid slots and many unpaid ones is triggering a new kind of political fight.
Where there are only a few paid slots, United Russia has worked to monopolize them, thus increasing its influence over the legislature because its deputies can afford to work there fulltime while those representing other parties are forced to work at their non-political jobs in order to live.
That has another consequence as well, Dyatlovskaya says. It inevitably sparks conflicts of interest and corruption because those who are now paid by the government for their legislative work may be more inclined to take money from interested parties to promote this or that legislative initiative.
As of now, all seats in the national legislature are paid; but this trend at the regional level suggests that there may be increasing pressure to a return to the Soviet-era practice when legislating was truly a part time job and when the CPSU chose milkmaids and others to try to present itself as a democratic institution.
To the extent that this trend continues – and Dyatlovskaya’s article suggests that the situation in this regard is getting worse rather than better – legislative activity in Russia may become the latest to be described as a “hybrid,” that is, as something that is ostensibly one thing but that in fact is something else entirely.