Former Russian finance minister hails a new bill on parliamentary elections

Former Russian finance minister Alexei Kudrin, chairman of the Civil Initiatives Committee, has hailed a bill to replace the current proportional representation system for State Duma elections with a combined system where some of the lower house seats would be filled through single-winner voting.

"We are satisfied that such a move has been made. It is a farsighted decision, and the combined system is something that the Civil Initiatives Committee has called for," Kudrin told reporters in Kazan, capital of the Tatarstan republic, on Saturday in comments on the bill, introduced by President Vladimir Putin.

It is primarily the current Russian leadership and the ruling United Russia party that need the combined system, Kudrin argued in answering a question from Interfax. However, it would offer extra opportunities to the opposition as well, according to him.

"There can be no two ways about it. It's not for nothing that the party of power is making this move. It's making it deliberately, and it's clear that it would serve its interests. It's resorting to the combined system because of its dwindling popularity," Kudrin said.

He predicted that the combined system would enable the "party of power" to stay in rule after the next elections.

"The party of power will be able to put forward its candidates at more polling stations, specific personalities will be able to bring a lot more votes to it," he said.

It would do good to the opposition as well. The opposition "so far has a smaller potential," Kudrin said.

"I think that, in individual regions, it would give more opportunities to members of the opposition to win seats in parliament through single-member constituencies," he said, adding that he supported "not every kind of opposition but more democratic, liberal, pro-right parties."

He also supported lowering the minimum proportion of votes a party needs to receive seats in the Duma to 5 percent as a positive though cosmetic move.

"It's a positive step. But in the new situation, where, I'm afraid, new democratic parties may split up, even 5 percent is, of course, a serious barrier, and the party of party realizes this. So it's both a demonstrative and a very cautious move," he said.

He argued that the 5 percent threshold would not change the situation seriously but added that much depended on opposition parties.

"If they are able to unify, 5 percent won't be a serious barrier for them at all. And, for example, for the party of Mikhail Prokhorov, who received nearly 8 percent at the presidential election [in March 2012], it would be quite possible to overcome the 5 percent threshold provided the party has done consistent work in developing itself," Kudrin said.

However, he deplored the section of the planned law that would prohibit forming electoral alliances.

"I'm sorry that blocs aren't allowed. This would have served to increase the potential of alternative rival forces and [raised the chances of] new parties coming into parliament," he said.

When asked whether he planned to run in any elections, Kudrin answered, "Not yet."

Asked who the Civil Initiatives Committee is willing to cooperate with, he said the committee works on civil initiatives regardless of which party they come from and does not seek any political alliances.

"We focus on achievements in some particular sphere, on raising grassroots activity, on problems of the country - local, regional, municipal. We will interact, cooperate with any political force - from United Russia to any of the opposition parties, - but only in addressing such tasks," he said.

In Kazan, Kudrin had meeting with Tatarstan government leaders and officers at the local branch of the Civil Initiatives Committee, discussing with them the pace of growth of Russia and Tatarstan, outlooks for Russia's political system, and opportunities for some of the committee's pilot projects in Tatarstan.

"One of the important conclusions from the meetings is that Tatarstan may expect more rapid development than other regions. I think we will be able to put some ideas into practice in closer cooperation with the local authorities and business community," Kudrin said.

He said he and the Tatarstan government had reached an agreement to hold another series of meetings in the short term.

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