President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Good afternoon, colleagues,
We currently have a number of draft laws under discussion. One of them has perhaps the greatest importance for regional and municipal authorities. It concerns the procedure for vesting the heads of Russian regions, the top officials in the constituent entities, with power. You are all familiar with the essence of the proposals. The draft law is currently under discussion.
As I understand, the participants of this meeting and a whole group of people who are not represented here have a number of ideas on ways to improve the draft law. As promised, I am open to your suggestions and am ready to discuss them with you.
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Dmitry Medvedev: I will try to summarise what I have heard from you. Please correct me if I get something wrong or if I am mistaken with regard to some details of your proposals.
The essence of the first proposal is that the candidates for the governorship should receive an added weight, if you wish, by communicating with people directly, as I understand it, in all municipalities, or consolidated municipal districts, and secure the trust and support of a certain percentage of municipal deputies and heads of municipalities.
At present we have seven political parties, and starting yesterday, when the new law came into force, their number will become much greater. Therefore, there is no doubt that if not all of these parties, then at least half of them will rush to the regions to take part in regional elections.
Besides, let me remind you that the law stipulates in general terms the possibility of self-nomination. There is a danger that the ranks of governor candidates will be joined by people who are completely unprepared or just crooks, as you said, as well the “town lunatics” and “village idiots” – there are enough of those too.
In the end, it is up to the voters to decide who is worthy and who is not. We must not impose any excessive barriers. In this sense, I do not like the term “filter”, frankly, because we do not need to filter anything. Let the people choose their governor.
Furthermore, voters must understand the price of their mistakes. We remember the 1990s, when very different people were elected governors: very strong and totally weak; sensible, intelligent people and those who promoted only popular measures. People must learn the value of their voices. They need to realise who they are voting for, and they must understand that if they make a mistake, then that official will govern them for a long time, unless the President makes the decision to terminate his or her mandate in line with the newly adopted law, or if the voters themselves succeed in securing the governor’s resignation, which is quite difficult, as we know. It is a complicated procedure. Therefore, it is necessary to value our votes.
However, as I understand your suggestion, our people need help, on the one hand, in deciding who and how will be elected, and on the other hand, the candidate, regardless of which party he or she represents, should get around every village and town and secure people’s support. This experience exists in other countries, where local deputies from different parties state officially which candidates they support.
Such a procedure could probably be offered to our voters but in that case (I am just thinking aloud), if this procedure is introduced, it must not be turned into a business transaction. There are clever people all over the country, and if the deputies — they are people too — give their support to United Russia and the Communists, for example, and to the Subtropical Party that is going to register, and to some other party – that’s no good. They must declare their support for only one party. If you want to support United Russia — go ahead, the Communists – no problem, the Liberal Democrats — fine. But only once. Otherwise, it will become a business. This is high-profile support.
If a candidate really wants to be elected, in this case he will really be able to say: “I have visited every single municipal district and secured the voters’ support. I have received such support from a certain number of deputies and I am ready to take part in the elections.” I think this idea has some merit.
We should have a look at foreign experience and at our own practices. I will instruct the [Presidential] Executive Office to do some work on this issue. But to be honest, I think if this is your initiative, you are the ones who should work out all the details. Because my draft law doesn’t have any of that. I don’t think it’s impossible; on the contrary, it may improve the election procedure in the long run. In that case I have a suggestion: as the heads of Russian regions, as the heads of municipalities, you should draft your proposals. You have a right to legislative initiative and you must use it, especially since the most heated debates on the draft law are going on in the regions.
In terms of percentages, you should think through what the optimal figure would be here. I think we must never forget that Russia is a federation, and each constituent entity should set its own figures. These figures should not be extremely high and they must not create barriers; let them be reasonable, for example 5% or 7% – you decide. Perhaps you could set an admissible range. In general, think this proposal through and draft it.
As for setting a single nationwide election date, I think it is a sensible idea, just because it will make your work easier. You have great responsibilities and you have to keep people’s trust. You shouldn’t be getting ready for elections instead of working on your core responsibilities, and for obvious reasons, politics is what it is, we all have political loyalties and belong to political parties and in the end it is an unending process, non-stop election campaigns. Again, if you look at the experience of other states, they all have a single day of voting and everyone gets ready for it once a year.
As for September I have no particular objections. September is a good month, still warm and people are in a good mood and want to go to the polls. On the other hand, crops have been harvested and not all the funding has been allocated yet, or at least there is some flexibility with budgetary decisions. Why not? Let’s draft it.
Response: The second Sunday in September would be great.
Dmitry Medvedev: It’s my birthday on September 14. (Laughter.) If we make this decision, I will go to the polls at around this time every year. In principle it is possible.
Well, let’s all agree that you will draft a consolidated proposal on the first and second issue, and later you can finalise it together with the Presidential Executive Office and submit it within the framework of your legislative initiative and your legislative powers. After that the State Duma deputies will decide whether to support this initiative or not.
If we talk about my response (I was briefed about this idea beforehand), I can say that it is quite positive. It seems to me that it has some merit and it is in the interests of our people. Let's get to work.