President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Good afternoon, colleagues.
Developing Russia’s political system is the subject of today’s State Council meeting. This subject is out of the ordinary for the State Council, as it is the first time that we are holding a meeting devoted exclusively to domestic policy and the development of our political system and democratic institutions.
This is also the first time that the leaders of all of our country’s political parties are present at a State Council meeting, so I hope that our discussions today will be serious and direct.
For everyone present here political life is a part of your daily work. You have to work together with public organisations and citizens, criticise others and respond to criticism in your address, prepare, take part in and organise elections, find common ground between different social groups’ interests, and, finally, maintain in all of these endeavours our country’s political stability.
All of you have contributed to building today’s political system, and I am willing to repeat words I have spoken on many past occasions and say that we have a political system that works. It is far from ideal, but it does work. The regional leaders and party leaders have done a lot to ensure that our political system and our country’s democracy are up to the task and able to work.
In its modern understanding the political system is a rather broad concept that encompasses all of the state’s fundamental institutions, including the courts, law enforcement agencies and government agencies. In other words, it covers the executive functions of power, the whole range of federal relations, civil society institutions, and political parties, of course.
I propose that we discuss all different issues today, including those I named, and not just limit ourselves to discussing elections. Each issue demands a whole separate examination, and we can outline the main directions for continuing the discussions we begin today.
In my opening remarks I will say a few words about some of the matters I consider most important, issues that I mentioned in my Address to the Federal Assembly last year, and that concern development of the constitutional principle of a multiparty system and increasing the level of political competition and the quality of popular representation.
Effective decisions have been taken over these last years to strengthen and consolidate parties. At the same time, parties have received what I would call unprecedented new possibilities. Elections to the State Duma now take place solely on the basis of party lists. At least half of all deputies in regional parliaments are also elected on the basis of party lists.
Parties receive financing from the federal budget. In other words, they exist on taxpayers’ money. Starting last year, parties have the sole right to nominate and submit to the president candidates for the post of regional governor.
I could go on with the list of parties’ powers. As a result of these steps we have taken over these last years, we now have fewer parties, but their influence has increased considerably, especially at regional level. They have become stronger organisationally too, and this goes for the ruling party and the opposition parties.
I remind you that in 2004, we had 48 parties. Today we have seven parties. But the number of party factions in the regional parliaments has risen dramatically from 91 in 2004, to 211 in 2007, and 248 in 2009. I remind you that United Russia had factions in 56 regions in 2004, and by last year had factions in every single region in the country. The Communist Party increased its number of factions in regional parliaments from 17 in 2004, to 67 last year. The Liberal Democratic Party saw its number of factions increase from 6 in 2004, to 43 last year, and A Just Russia saw its number go up from 18 in 2006, to 50 in 2009. Some of the other parties are also represented in regional parliaments. These figures speak for themselves.
Society and the state have given parties special rights. In quantity terms, parties have shown impressive organisational growth. But our goals of modernising and developing our country and society now require us to focus our attention on the work and especially the quality of our democratic institutions and ensure that citizens’ interests are adequately represented, and that political competition is waged using responsible means and is based on honest and clear platforms.
These demands are addressed not just to party officials but also to regional leaders, to the governors, most of whom today belong to or support United Russia. Some regions are headed by members of other parties. For example, Nikolai Vinogradov, who will speak today, is currently the only regional governor from the Communist Party.
As I have said often of late, Russia is in need of comprehensive modernisation. We need to radically transform our economic and technological base and close the gap in our development so as to give our country an effective and more competitive economy and make our people wealthier. We need an economy based on intellectual achievements, a smart economy, but only smart people can build a smart economy. This means that our society is becoming more complex and diverse, developing new dimensions, and the different groups that make it up have different lifestyles and different tastes and opinions, including political opinions. There is no point in trying to command a society like this; you need to cooperate with it.
Our task is to ensure that the principles underlying our political system, our system of government, fit with our society’s complex makeup and ideological and cultural diversity. The political system needs to become smarter, more flexible, more modern, but in practice, we all too often encounter approaches that instead only complicate social processes and attempts to govern using primitive and what I would even call stupid administration.
Our regions all differ in their traditions and social structure. Each region is unique, but there is not a single region in our country where every single inhabitant has one and the same political preferences. The authorities in every region without exception therefore have a duty to work together with the branches of parties active in the region, even if these parties and branches are small, even if only half a percent of voters vote for them. These few voters are our citizens too, and their views also need to be heard by the authorities. It is for this reason that I proposed giving representatives of the parties that do not have seats in the regional parliaments the chance to make their views heard. This proposal needs to be implemented.
The regional parliaments vary in their makeup. There are some quite extraordinary regional assemblies with just one registered faction, and others, the majority incidentally, that have from two to five factions. There can be no uniformity here – it is up to voters to decide which parties will work in the parliaments and which will not. But the regional authorities need to analyse to what extent party representation corresponds to voter demand.
I think that just one faction is too few, no matter what the region. There are always people with other views, people who vote for other parties. Perhaps even two factions are not enough. We have spoken a lot lately about the results of the last elections. I would also like to share a few reflections.
To give just one example, do the two factions in the current Moscow City Duma reflect the full diversity of Muscovites’ political views? To be honest, I doubt it, because Moscow is a huge and complex city with a very diverse and active population, but there are just two factions in the Moscow City Duma. You could say, of course, that this is because Muscovites are not very active about voting in local elections, but voter turnout, low voter turnout, is in itself a political problem. I am not proposing remedies here – voters have to decide for themselves which parties, and how many parties, they want to represent them. But we need to ask ourselves if we have done everything to ensure that voters’ views have been heard, not distorted, and fully taken into account, as the principles of democracy demand.
Transparency of election procedures is something we have also discussed a lot of late. I offer a few conclusions on this subject.
First, overall, the results of regional elections reflect the real balance of political forces in the country and public opinion – this is indisputable. I know that various opinions have been spoken on this point, but the cases in which results from particular districts have actually been contested in court represent in total only tiny fractions of the overall percentage of votes.
Overall, we can say that allegations of mass-scale violations have proved unfounded. I would propose abstaining in the future from making such wholesale accusations against the electoral system. I am not talking about violations, of course, which need to be prevented and punished, but about accusations against the electoral system itself, because this is really just another form of legal nihilism. If you have facts then you need to go to court, but if there are no facts then the accusations are groundless. The courts are the only instance that can settle these matters.
Does this mean that our elections are flawless, including the latest regional and local elections? No, of course not. The result of the election in Derbent has been cancelled for now by court order, for example. We still have much to do to build up solid confidence in the electoral system – one of democracy’s most important institutions.
This is why, in my Address to the Federal Assembly, I put such emphasis on the need to strengthen democratic institutions at regional level. We have done a lot together to improve the situation at federal level. We have taken decisions, and now we need to tackle this task at regional level. I think that equipping all polling stations with modern electronic systems for casting and counting ballots is one of the most important tasks.
By the end of this month the Government and the Central Electoral Commission will submit their proposals on this matter. I remind you that as things stand today, only a little more than one percent of polling stations have been equipped with these systems.
Furthermore, I have already sent to the State Duma a draft law setting the procedures for deciding the size of legislatures in the regions. Today, I will send to the State Duma a draft law guaranteeing representation in all regional parliaments for parties that received more than five percent of the vote, just as we have done at federal level. The work on improving the quality of popular representation will continue. I want to thank United Russia for its unwavering support for all of my initiatives, and the other parties represented here today for their support on various issues.
I ask the Federal Assembly to examine all of the draft laws on implementing the proposals formulated in the Address [to the Federal Assembly] during the spring parliamentary session, and I ask the regional leaders to provide their assistance in making changes to local legislation as necessary.
Colleagues, practically all of the parties are represented in one way or another in the state bodies of power at regional level, but the picture is different at local level. Almost half of the 246,000 deputies in the municipal representative bodies are members of United Russia.
This is not a bad result, and it reflects voters’ real preferences as things stand at the moment, but communists account for no more than two percent of deputies at municipal level, members of A Just Russia account for one percent, and members of the Liberal Democratic Party also account for one percent or even less.
This is an amazing situation because it indicates that our parties, above all the opposition parties, are very weak in their work at municipal level, and that there is practically no political competition at this level. We need to reflect together on the measures we can take to encourage political competition at the municipal level.
Another important subject is that last year, the procedures for appointing regional governors were changed at my proposal. Now, the president recommends a candidate based on the nominations made by parties, but this does not mean, colleagues, that regional governors and the heads of republics and territories have become mere appointees, mere civil servants sent to fill this or that office.
On the contrary, all of you are politicians in the full sense of the word, who need to win the support of the parties responsible for nominating you for this office. In other words, you are all by definition public politicians, leaders who are open and public in your work.
I think that the main criteria for assessing regional leaders’ work will always be the level of support they receive from the regions’ people. You can call this their political rating, call it what you like, but we are talking about precisely the level of public support. I hope that the regional leaders will keep constant watch on what public opinion thinks of their actions and not shut themselves away in their offices. In this respect, there must be contact with all political parties, with the media, public organisations and non-governmental organisations. All of these contacts are extremely useful and quite simply essential.
You need to communicate and not be shy about going out to the people. You need to listen to what they say, enter into debate if necessary, but the authorities must be in constant dialogue with the public. We all realise that this dialogue is never easy. Public support for regional leaders will remain one of the main criteria in deciding whether or not governors should continue in their posts.
Finally, colleagues, public discussion and competition between parties can be as intense as we like, but we need to share the same basic values regardless of which party we belong to and what kind of life we live: Russia’s prosperity, social stability, peaceful life, territorial integrity, freedom and justice, and human rights and dignity. We are all different people living in different regions, and we have different views and different parties to represent them, but we all share the same country, and let’s not forget this.
I think the idea of holding a State Council meeting on political issues was entirely justified and has proved a success.
It seems to me that the regional leaders here today have listened to what the political party leaders have to say very attentively. Many of you, I think, have not heard such a critical assessment of the current political situation in a long time. This is a not a bad thing. We should not ever allow ourselves to get illusions about the stability of the conditions in which we work, but we need to value and maintain this stability.
I will not sum up just now all that was said here, and respond to what the leaders of the different parties had to say. I want to remind all of the governors present of what I said in my opening remarks, which contain the instructions I am giving the regional leaders, and the legislative initiatives that I already put forward in the Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly and in my subsequent actions. This should serve as the guideline for future work.
I cannot but agree that there is no political system that is absolutely problem-free and ready for any development of events. All political systems are in a constant process of development, and I am confident that we are on the right road.
Some speakers raised the danger of a return to the Soviet period, or a descent into authoritarianism, attempts to copy the experiments of various political regimes in neighbouring countries. But I am absolutely convinced – and today’s discussions in full measure confirm this – that there can be no return to the kind of political system we had during the Soviet period, and not just for economic reasons, and not because of all we have worked so actively on, especially over these last ten years, but simply because no one in Russia today, not the public nor the leaders here in this hall, would be willing to accept this now. We do not need this. We have chosen our road and we will keep to it.
I am sure too that in the foreseeable political future, quite soon, we will have a modern political system of which we can all be proud, a system that we will criticise nonetheless, because there is never any model that is established for once and for all without no further change.
All political systems need to develop, and our society needs to modernise together with the economy. This is the task we will be working on over the upcoming period.