Staunton, April 17 – Despite Moscow’s demand that other countries conduct referendums on issues it considers important, the Russian government has introduced a draft bill in the Duma that would eliminate still more of Russians’ already-limited rights to hold referendums of their own, a step officials said would “simplify” administration and “save budgetary funds.”
According to the new measure, decisions about a change in the status of a municipality except ones involving its division into two or more parts, decisions that now require referendums, could be made without them by local deputies “with the agreement of the population” but not by its vote (polit.ru/article/2015/04/16/referendum/).
Already and despite the provisions of both the Russian constitution and Russian law, officials routinely change the status of municipalities without referendums, even in the case of major moves like the unification of two urban districts, Zheleznodorozhny and Balashikha in Moscow oblast.
But there have been legal challenges to such moves, and the proposed law would vitiate them, according to Vyacheslav Timchenko, the head of the experts council of the All-Russian Council on Local Self-Administration. Duma members say that the change like all those pushed by the government is likely to pass.
Indeed, some regional officials are already prepared to go further than the proposed law. Vladimir Ulyanov, a United Russia deputy in the Tyumen oblast duma, has called for doing away with all referenda because in his view they “are ineffective since they require spending from local budgets.”
But Vladimir Sysoyev, the head of the LDPR fraction in the same oblast duma, says that the proposed change is intended to take as much power away from the population as possible and to send a message that “you do not decide anything, and we don’t need you.”
Analysts say that this measure will shift power not only from the people to the government but from the localities to the regions, strengthening the latter and limiting the growth of local government. And one, Aleksandr Kynyev, says that this is all part of a trend of the last two years – to allow the government to make decisions “without citizen participation.”