Electoral System In The Russian Federation: Current Status And Improvement Issues
extracts from the Report delivered by N.T. Ryabov,
Chairman of the Central Electoral Committee of the Russian Federation
at workshop conferences for election committee chairpersons and campaign leaders
Today's election campaigns to elect representative bodies of state power are guided by the absolutely new legal acts. Following the notorious events of the past fall the President of the Russian Federation approved certain acts to regulate the procedure to be followed in the establishment of new representative bodies of federal authority. In addition, the emerging new electoral system was activated to resolve the fundamental issue of Russia's statehood enhancement bay holding a referendum on country's draft Constitution.
The basic feature of the above legal acts was that they implied both the / majority and the proportional system votes in electing the Federal Assembly, \/ which was unprecedented in the national electoral practices. A new / approach was adopted to form electoral districts based on the amount of / electorate residing in the district, not the actual administrative and V territorial arrangement. Furthermore, the electoral committees were being formed on a parity basis by both the representative and the executive bodies of state power of the Federation subjects, except for regions in which the term of office of the representative authority was cut early.
The electoral regulations approved by the President of Russia have defined the procedure for political parties, movements and electoral associations immediately involved in the electoral process. For the first time ever an alternative was legally shaped for voters, in addition to making choice by casting ballots in support of their selected candidates, to demonstrate personal attitude towards elections by the popular and much criticized right to abstain from going to the polls.
The above, though hardly indisputable from the view point of state construction or the interests of political parties or movements, gave each voter an unquestionable assurance of no personal explanations requested after the election day to defend one's absenteeism - a popular practice with the authorities in the past.
Hence, voters' going to the polls is basically the result of the former generations' traditions inherent to the entire social organism rather than an indicator of election democracy.
I believe, the above factor of the election campaigning is yet to be duly reflected in public conscience and be assessed by experts dealing with the problem. Hopefully, an unbiased view of the situation would soon help define as democratic both the elections which imply general, equal and direct electoral right and secret ballot and the elections which imply expression of free will in polling booths and the freedom of voter's mind and conscience.
Another remarkable feature of the current electoral process is the true openness of the campaign to the whole society. Searchers are doomed to fail in trying to find examples of mandate distribution lists prepared in advance by any power institutions, parties or political movements, not to mention the electoral committees. This can equally be referred to the draft Constitution referendum in which the outcome was determined exclusively based on the polling returns with no directives coming from above.
A good illustration to the above would be the example offered by certain «new wave» politicians as they gathered in the notorious TV show to noisily celebrate the positive result of polling they expected relying on their own calculations: let us just recall the miserable end of the act. Keeping away from any political assessment of the event which was broadcast to the entire nation, I would only want to say the basic result was that most of us finally realized the true importance of the opinion of each voting citizen in this country and add that time is ripe to take the opinion into proper consideration. Likewise, time has come to really team dealing with the electorate instead of mere copying propaganda leaflets. Voters tend to display far greater interest in the personality and the messages of deputy candidates, rather than a shapeless association formerly referred to as «the indestructible bloc of communists and non-party people».
Also noteworthy is the fact that electoral committees - in fact, the vital element of any electoral system - were formed, for the first time in the long decades of our former statehood, outside party structures and, were offered an opportunity to profess, beyond will of party leaders, the sole ideology of law and legitimacy.
It is another thing to assess practical implementation of the electoral process novelties introduced by the Presidential Decree, evaluate our own degree of preparedness or conclude whether we actually managed to renounce the historic dogmas and the incessant cautious looks cast back at high level officials.
There is one more particular feature with the approved electoral regulations, namely, the emphasis put on public control. This was exactly what committee members entitled to a deliberative vote, authorized representatives of electoral associations and candidates, foreign observers were engaged with.
Finally, yet another objective factor came into being to require extreme effort of the electoral committees at all levels and the all the others involved in the electoral process (including the electorate, too). What I mean is the short time devoted to election campaigning, which necessitated working in a flash despite known, social confrontation at the time.
A brief analysis of certain lessons to be drawn out of the past election would show the election campaign started during an extremely complicated and dramatic period of our history when state and public security was jeopardized but came, however, to a praise-worthy ending yielding the adoption of a new Constitution of Russia, formation of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation which two events became in fact the decisive prerequisite of political stability in the society and contributed to the establishment of the much desired civil partnership. Thus, the above short period gave birth to a democratic electoral system - quite viable and having a character of its own.
The multi-party electoral system yielded the new multi-party parliament destined to take the rightful constitutional position in the nation's political and social life and fill in the gaps inside the representative power.
How do we define an electoral system?
A definition may be as follows: it is the combination of a whole variety of elements of society's political system which interact through voter's free will to give way to the formation of various branches of state power.
The electorate makes the central link within the electoral system. That is why the electoral rights guaranteed to citizens become the primary condition of electoral system's effectiveness.
Along with the electoral committees the electoral system's life support function involves the legislative, executive and the judicial authorities, local self-government bodies, law enforcement institutions, parties and political movements, independent candidates and mass media. Just imagine the enormous amount of individuals drawn into election campaigning, the numerous obstacles, which had to be overcome as the campaign progressed, and the regulatory gaps, which had to be filled as the new electoral systems «virgin land was upturned».
The second step was in no way less difficult at all, and I mean the preparation and conduct of the election of the representative bodies of state power of the subjects and the local self-government authority.
To crown it all, we might state the efforts by all those involved in the electoral process, coming now into its ninth month, resulted in obtaining a nation-wide basis, both huge and approved by practice, for the electoral laws. Expertise was gained in resolving the issue most complicated and vital for any state: the formation of representative bodies of state power.
Currently operation electoral committees attract unprecedented interest and are given attitudes sometimes absolutely polar varying from profound gratitude for highly competent and principled approach to deep resentment, insult or blackmailing. It's no secret the outcome of election is pretty much dependent on how we work or how competent we are or how bravely and firmly we defend our line. Let me stress here I mean the outcome of election, not the factual polling returns. Likewise, it is on the professionalism of electoral committees that the prestige and the legitimacy of the elected bodies of authority or individual candidates depend.
As is known, the federal, regional and local echelons of the electoral process involved the Central Electoral Committee of the Russian Federation, the electoral committees of the subjects of the Federation, district, territorial (regional, municipal, etc.) committees and precinct electoral committees.
As long as the election was held at different levels simultaneously, with more and more areas of this country consecutively involved in the electoral process, positive conditions took shape for closely co-coordinated interregional co-operation and joint effort with due regard given to the experience gained by committees already passed through the process.
Thus, life itself raised the issue of reasonable transformation of formally self-sustained committees into an integrated system. It is not, however, that the committees allegedly seek independence of the other bodies of authority or the electorate. In fact, the idea is to be solely dependent on law, escape pressure exerted by the authoritative structures, confess the only ideology of being subject to acts of legislation and use such acts to secure constitution and electoral rights of citizens.
In this connection, we view the gradual establishment of the system of committees as a truly objective and certainly positive result of the electoral campaign. The regulatory basis for the process was initially provided by the known Presidential Decree «On Measures to Improve the Electoral System in the Russian Federation».
Another step forward in the said direction would, we believe, be the law on the basic guarantees of the electoral rights of citizens, though opponents, to this course of events are still many. What we intend to include into the coming draft laws designed to provide detailed regulation for the election of / State Duma deputies and the President, as well as the referendum procedure, L is our vision of formation, function and interaction practices applicable to every committee at all levels, based on real life, not any opportune views.
Anyone analyzing the outcome of the campaign or the work of the electoral committees, in fact, anyone associated daily with those involved in the electoral process may gradually come to the conclusion that the best results were achieved by the committees which managed to arrange their procedure not yielding one iota from the letter or the spirit of the regulatory acts, the committees which ensured efficient co-operation with the authorities and those arranging for diligent voter consultations or succeeding in identifying an adequate level of mass media contacts. Furthermore,
such were the committees in which their leaders never lost spirit whatever the situation was, including interaction with the structures of power.
By the way, it was exactly the inadequacy of attention paid to the latter circumstance that resulted in most distressing situations in Krasnodarsky Krai, Amurskaya Oblast, the Republic of Buryatia where what we used to define as «organizational conclusions» were the selected way of settlement. There was serious dissatisfaction expressed at the latest CEC session with the activities of St Petersburg's municipal electoral committee chairman.
With the above bitter experience in mind and to avoid making any more mistakes the electoral committees, we understand, should be formed on the basis of genuine parity by the representative and the executive y-authorities with parties and political movements duly represented. The committees are to be headed by full - time professionals.
We are convinced, each subject of the federation should have a leading. regional electoral committee authorized to co-ordinate the activities of the other committees. For your information, a total of seventy such committees have been specified by now, and more co-coordinated work is under way in the regions. Our opinion is they will constitute a solid basis for this country's electoral system.
Starting from this coming fall we intend to initiate a large-scale training program involving the participants of the electoral process. The program will cover training at all electoral committee echelons, i.e., from the CEC to precinct electoral committees, as well as- voters proper. Each «'category of trainees will be offered a special approach in terms of contents, method and duration of the training period.
Senior officers and members of district electoral committees for election of State Duma and Federal Assembly deputies and those of the regional (leading) committees will be trained at the facilities of the Russian Academy of Management or regional training centers, wherever the arrangement of special courses is possible. Current training programs imply conduct of workshops, probational periods and traveling elsewhere for exchange of experience. To make it short, we'll try and create the conditions for everyone seeking to devote oneself to electoral activities.
Adequate regulatory basis is the core and the primary condition of any electoral system. Current environment requires unconditionally, a uniform approach to electoral regulation throughout the whole of Russia. Draft Law of the basic guarantees of electoral rights of citizens developed by the President and submitted for review of State Duma is only the initial step in the way towards the formation of electoral legislation. It is essential that the entire package of draft laws related to the electoral right is made available by the time the State Duma adopts the above law of guarantees, namely the draft federal law on holding all-Russian referendums, the Presidential election draft law, the draft law on State Duma deputies' election. Work has already been started in the direction with many experts involved.
Federal legislation will serve as the basis for structural development of relevant electoral legislation within the subjects of the Russian Federation, including laws to regulate election of representative and executive bodies of state power, local self-government bodies and the local referendums regulation. Each federation subject will therefore have at least three electoral laws.
There is a particular issue related to the formation of electoral districts, which can hardly be avoided in discussing the electoral campaign. As far as the Federal Assembly election is concerned the process was very similar to what we used to have in electing the bodies of state power in the past. The main difficulties were encountered in the formation of districts in which deputies (representatives) of the legislature of the subjects were to be elected. Let me remind you, the arrangement of districts had been effected, regardless of the administrative and territorial division with the amount of electorate being the sole criterion for such arrangement. The above resulted in a controversy as it offered, on the one hand, enhanced guarantees of the electoral rights, but added, on the other hand, to the complicacy of the relationship between electoral committees, specifically, the precinct and district ones.
Furthermore, those tasked to resolve the issue were often inclined, as they sensed the difference between city and rural political opinions, to artificially increase the number of districts covering rural areas, though less populated.
It is understandable I mean candidates already in office seeking guaranteed election into representative bodies. The outcome is widely known bringing about numerous complaints, appeals and Prosecutor office protests, court hearings still on several months after the elections.
With regard to what has been said it seems reasonable to retain basically the procedure adopted for the formation of electoral districts, though much thought has yet to be given to better co-ordination of electoral committees and support in every step they may take, including review of results so as to eliminate any dependence on local administrations strictly limited by their administrative and territorial division boundaries.
Optional arrangements for electoral district formation with regard to the administrative and territorial division, particularly, at city or rayon level, would imply posing a limit on the difference in the amount of electorate with account made for the specific local situation.
We would also view as promising the establishment of multi-mandate districts, which may help ease tension caused by the desire to achieve equality of districts in terms of the amount of electorate and the impossibility to achieve such equality due to reasons outlined earlier. Let me remind you, such practices were hardly rare.
Multi-mandate status, or «mnogomandatka» as it was routinely referred to, was applied in at least every fifth subject of the federation, as preparation was under way for the election of representative authorities. Eighty multi-mandate districts were established with almost 250 deputies, or 12 percent of total to be elected in them.
It should be mentioned, the effectiveness of elections held in multi-mandate districts is generally comparable to the indices obtained with single-mandate districts and reaches more than 80 percent of the total number of registered candidates. The difference in the amount of electorate between various districts was also reduced which secured equality for both the voters and the candidates. The Central Electoral Committee has supported the initiative put forth by the administration of Krasnodarsky Krai to hold a multi-mandate system election.
The multi-mandate district arrangement practices are in no way a universal means to overcome every problem of a campaign. Nevertheless, much of what seems really reasonable in them could well be applied to the development of the new electoral laws, particularly, the experience available at regional and local electoral levels.
Parties, public associations, other political movements play the leading role in the state management system of any democracy. In view of the fact, political parties regard struggle for power and influence upon the formation v of nation's internal and foreign policies as their utmost task. There is a way for parties to achieve their goals in a most democratic manner, i.e., through the electoral process by enhancing their presentation at the bodies of state power.
Our society has vigorously responded to the emerging new political and legal opportunities. It only took the nation a short time to have several thousand federal, regional and local public and political associations make themselves known.
So far, as we repeatedly said and stated in our analytical reviews, the political parties have only been timid in the struggle for power, especially, in the regions, as their activities were sometimes inconsistent and incompetent and they had still a lot to team.
As you know two electoral systems, namely the majority system and the proportional representation system, were applied during the election. The latter system, though, was only applied to State Duma elections. Within the proportional system the procedure was to accept representative office candidate nominations only if made by electoral associations. Since every procedural step was described and explained in detail and the step sequence was strictly enforced, the political parties and movements generally coped with the task.
The majority system traditional for this country offered all the parties involved an opportunity to nominate candidates and run for offices. However, there were only a few parties that were a success in taking advantage of the opportunity. Some of them failed because of their being too small, others - due to their amorphous structures or internal contradictions, though in fact most of them were a failure because of low funding.
That is why, as life proved, the electorate was on most occasions stimulated by candidates' personal qualities, rather than their party membership. It is hardly accidental, voters in many a district selected individual deputies among candidates of one political movement while voting for the federal ticket of a different orientation within the same district.
Nowhere except for Saratovskaya Oblast was it decided to apply the proportional or combined system in electing the representative bodies of power of the Federation subjects. As to Saratovskaya, a successful combined system election was held there on May 29 with our support.
Yet, Russia's future seems to be in a combined electoral system in which the majority system is used along with the proportional system depending on the specifics of the political system at both federal and regional levels.
A few words about electorate's political culture.
The essential indicators of voter's political culture are the actual degree of voters' activity on polling day and the degree of voters' awareness in going to the polls.
Let us take, for instance, the invalid ballot forms and the ballots showing vote against all candidates. The invalid forms were evidently the result of poor knowledge of the electoral procedure, which is in fact our fault, i. e., the fault of electoral committees. As is known ballots were to be marked inside frames printed against candidate's names, whereas at all times before the names of candidates had to be crossed. This seemingly minor detail resulted in invalid ballots growing by one and a half million as compared to 1990.
An analysis of the amount of ballots cast against all candidates (which figure is by no means less impressive) would make it evident that apart from) difficulty in filling in the ballot forms the «against all» voting was caused j mainly by the disappointment with the candidates.
Another important factor is the growing social tension observed I regionally. For instance, most of the «against all» ballots were reported in the / North and the Far East.
As far as the lack of voters' activity in their going to the polls, the problem was basically cause by the inadequate procedural design to which the electoral committees made their disappointing contribution, too.
The primary conclusion to be drawn out of the above is more work is needed on the electorate to be done on a daily basis, not on polling day alone, to help citizens be more aware of their personal political affiliations.
Voter education system is to be established. We discussed the issue in detail at a recent CEC session. What was stressed, voters needed an organized education system to help them prepare for conscious and active participation in the election.
Opportunities available to regional branches of parties, political movements and electoral associations should be taken advantage of, as well. Political parties in many countries are fighting to gain additional vote by widely applying the aggressive «knocking-out» tactics. Campaigning includes permanent work with their candidates' supporters to stimulate voters' going to the polls, and control, exercised till the very polling day, over accurate registration of every supporter in the lists of voters. Thorough knowledge of the electorate to be worked on implies identification and adequate registry. This brings about the issue of having a system to secure voter registration by the state. Certain regional experience is available in the field.
The State Voter Automated Registration System is to be developed in the near future - the system which could be used, apart from electoral campaign applications, to facilitate labor resource employment, development of social aid, national health and insurance medicine systems, contribute to population census.
Funding of the electoral campaign comes among issues of primary importance, as well. In fact, the issue seems to be the least supported legally. It was actually «on the run» that we had to form somewhat adequate regulatory basis within our competence and adjust to the situation in 1993.
Special attention should be paid to electoral fund planning and allocation techniques.
Total 1993 electoral campaign and national draft Constitution referendum expenditure was approximately 121 billion rubles of which 117 billion was assigned to the national budget. As much as 83 billion rubles were allocated from the federal budget to finance the election of representative bodies in the subjects of the Federation.
You would, of course, agree district vote counting and returns identification are the most important procedural elements of a campaign. There is hardly any need to go into detail and elaborate on the methods defined by the approved regulatory documents. Let me just comment on some problems we encountered in identifying the returns of the December 12 election. A particular difficulty was met as the returns of State Duma election were identified in the federal electoral district. We were under permanent pressure of almost 95 thousand precinct protocols, which the CEC had to process. As we carefully prepared ourselves for the job it became evident serious returns identification problems would be unavoidable unless first class technical support of the procedure is provided at every data processing level or the electoral committees are given relevant high quality training. The CEC have already taken certain major steps to provide high-tech basis to the electoral process by using every available computer or office support facility.
It should be stated quite definitely, identification of voting returns and draft Constitution polling was effected in strict compliance with the existing regulatory basis. Both the Council of the Federation and the State Duma confirmed CEC's exclusive compliance by recognizing the competence of every elected deputy with no exception.
It would be unjust not to dwell on the major importance of polling station observer function during polling. The principles and guarantees of election campaign's glasnost augmented by complete openness were the essence of the electoral regulatory basis and were implied by the standards related to candidate nomination, electoral district and precinct arrangement procedure, voter listing, electoral committee formation and function, campaigning procedure, vote counting, election returns identification, etc.
The above orientation of the federal regulation gave way to the development of numerous acts regulating the election of regional representative (legislative) bodies of state power and local self-government.
Mass media are known to play the special role in adding to glasnost of any electoral campaign. Both the Central Electoral Committee and the local committees were taking all possible measures to provide every electoral association, every deputy candidate with equal campaigning opportunities, first and foremost, by use of mass media. By agreement with the TV and radio broadcasting companies the committees undertook to distribute the time on the air. Yet, the task was beyond the powers of certain committees.
Many disputable issues related to the observance of candidates' electoral rights were resolved in reasonable compromise by bringing to the Presidential Court of Arbitration specifically established to examine informational disputes despite the election campaign's unprecedented nature in terms of acute political struggle.
For the first time ever this country was offered a special edition dealing with elections and electoral committee activities: I mean the CEC Bulletin circulated throughout the whole of Russia.
Summarizing the above I would like to stress we must have overcome the «childish» period in the arrangement of truly democratic elections. We've gone through a lot to team precious lessons. Allow me to conclude by once again stating the primary measures of electoral system perfection.
First, a reliable legal basis is to be provided to regulate the electoral processes at any - federal or local self-government - level.
Second, a system of electoral committees should be developed to make them independent self-sustained bodies subordinate to neither the representative, nor the executive authority.
There are several organizational issues to be resolved, including the \ work with the electorate, the political parties and electoral associations and the establishment of the State Voter Registration System.
Further improvement is essential for a closer and more constructive t co-operation of the regional bodies of state executive and representative I power and the central federal authority both during the election campaign j and on an everyday basis.
There is a great need for effective training and education of every participant of the electoral process, including rank - and - file voters.
A reasonable system of mass media contacts is needed.
Finally, it is vital to develop clearly defined procedure for election campaign funding.
These are the tasks we are facing - we, the people genuinely interested in the establishment of reliable statehood and the development of stable electoral system in Russia.
Allow me to wish everyone involved in the process a lot of power and energy, creation and patience in resolving the tasks that we face.
SUMMARY OF RECOMMENDED ACTION FOR RUSSIA
Improved Electoral System. Development of Electoral Legislation. Electoral Practices.
The participants of workshop conferences conducted for electoral committee chairpersons, representatives of legislative and executive bodies of state power of the Volga (Povolzhye) region in Astrakhan on May 26-27, 1994 and of the Eastern Siberia and the Far East (Khabarovsk, June 9- 10, 1994), herewith note that the 1993-1994 electoral campaign in the Russian Federation was initiated during a complicated period of national history when the country's national integrity and social security were actually jeopardized. The initial major result of the electoral campaign was the adoption of the new Constitution of the Russian Federation and the formation of the Russian Federal Assembly chambers, which contributed in a most effective way to the achievement of political stability in the society and the establishment of civil partnership and became one of the fundamental conditions for signing the Agreement of Social Concord.
The discussion we had on issues pertaining to the preparation and conduct of the elections of the Federation Council, the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, regional state power bodies, issues related to the All-Russian referendum and legal regulatory basis for the entire electoral process has led us to consider it necessary to propose measures which we believe would contribute to further improvement of Russia's electoral system.
1. One of the basic tasks in the field should be the establishment of a reliable regulatory basis rested on the available Russian experience to regulate the electoral process, secure guarantees of the constitutional rights of citizens involved in electing federal and regional representative authority on the basis of common, equal and direct vote by secret ballot. In view of this the participants attending workshop conferences proclaim their support of the draft Law «On the Basic Guarantees of the Electoral Rights of the Citizens of the Russian Federation», submitted by the President of the Russian Federation for review of the State Duma and recommend that the draft Law be with no delay reviewed and adopted. Priority should also be given to the development and adoption of the federal laws on election of the State Duma, the formation of the Federation Council, the Presidential election in the Russian Federation and the all-Russian referendum. It is utmost important to develop and adopt in the nearest future relevant federal laws pertaining to the general principles of electing representative bodies of power of the subjects of the Russian Federation and the electable bodies of local self-government.
2. Practical experience of the latest electoral campaign stage has proved with all evidence the vital necessity to establish a joint system of electoral
Committees independent of any influence and operating exclusively in compliance with the legislation. The electoral committees should therefore be assigned the status of legal entities, be entitled to the right of legislative initiative, whereas chairing persons with regional (leading) electoral committees should hold their offices on a permanent full - time basis.
3. Time is ripe to establish a system of state registration of voters for // eventual implementation of systematic registry of the population in regions, cities and rural areas to resolve, apart from the electoral system tasks, local issues related to social policies and infrastructural development within the specific territories, exercise control over migration processes, etc.
4. A new approach is needed in the relations between electoral committees and political parties and movements during electoral campaigns. It is therefore pressing to review the establishment of the federal and the regional councils in charge of relations with parties and associations, which councils could include both the representatives of the parties and associations and the persons authorized by the representative and executive bodies of power, the electoral committees and the other participants of the electoral process.
5. A system of training and education should be established in the nearest future for everyone involved in the electoral process to raise voters' legal culture and inculcate upon them the feeling of responsibility for the implementation of their constitutional participation in state and social management. This highly important task should involve representative and executive authorities, prominent public figures and mass media.
6. A thorough review co-coordinated with the Government of the Russian Federation is needed of the procedure of electoral campaign funding. In our view it is vital to adopt a relevant federal law, which would both strictly regulate the procedure of assets allocation and distribution between electoral campaigners in Russia and define the degree of responsibility for any misappropriation of allocated funds.
7. No successful implementation of the electoral process would now be possible unless supported by timely and high-quality electoral data processing. For these purposes it is essential to supply electoral committees with computers and other up-to-date technical facilities and introduce E - mailing practices.
We are convinced resolution of the above and certain other problems affecting the outcome of elections would add to more active construction of Russia's statehood and improved effectiveness of the national electoral system.
We therefore appeal to workers of mass media and suggest that the highest possible impartiality is given to coverage of electoral committee
activities and, first and foremost, the results of the free will of Russians exposed in the election campaign.
We therefore feel it vital to apply to the President of the Russian Federation, the Federal Assembly and the Government of Russia with the above proposals pertaining to further improvement of the electoral system in the Russian Federation.
ASTRAKHAN & KHABVAROVSK
WORKSHOP CONFERENCE PARTICIPANTS