Strengthening of Democracy in Russia through Improved Public Awareness
October 1, 2000 - January 31, 2004
Funded by USAID/Russia
With two federal elections in the last several months and many more local elections that took place on the same day Russia has collected enough election experiences to start re-thinking its election law structure and approach to election campaigning. The new Russian President has started reforming administrative structures that will inevitably lead to new elections at local levels or, eventually, a national referendum.
The project «Strengthening of Democracy in Russia through Improved Public Awareness» is designed to be implemented within a period of forty months leading up to the next State Duma elections. It will focus on strengthening the civic participation through better awareness. The next State Duma elections are scheduled for December 2003 and the project will come to a logical end in January 2004 to be continued through the next presidential election as a separate program.
IESD views its primary role as a public tool in democracy building - an information clearinghouse during election campaigns as well as in between, and as a bridge between voters (citizens) and the government (election administrators). There is an enormous gap in understanding what governance and the role of the society are and IESD will do its best to cover it.
The main goal of this project is to provide a venue for a more effective cooperation between the citizens (voters, media, and scholars) on one side and legislators and election administrators on the other to make democracy work.
To achieve that goal IESD will use a variety of means:
1. There is a continued interest in election materials. Election laws are hard to understand, but 75 percent of respondents of prior polling by questionnaires said IESD materials helped them understand the law (others said, «it helped to some extent»). Therefore, IESD will continue to explain how the law works and make the results of the research public so that to lobby the legislators.
2. There has been improvement in the voter education and outreach materials prepared by the CEC, but distribution is scarce, untimely, and usually does not reach beyond a limited circle of election administrators. IESD, therefore, will keep providing its own materials in a timely manner.
3. There is a need in professional comments on many important issues of the election law - registration of parties/candidates, campaigning, funding of election campaigns, determination of election results, and adjudication of grievances. These issues will continue to be highly critical due to arbitrary application of the law. Therefore, IESD will use its resources to provide updated information and qualified comments about the issues mentioned above.
4. Distribution of first-hand election experience is critical for a successful operation of election administrators as well as for Russian voters. Therefore IESD will continue to provide such information to all interested individuals and groups.
5. Adoption of a modified election law will be a question of time. The CEC will need international expertise regarding draft laws and regulations. IESD will act as a liaison between the CEC and IFES and will be able to provide comparative materials when asked by legislators and the CEC.
6. Local elections are funded from local budgets and voter education components usually undergo merciless budget cuts. IESD will offer comprehensive voter education support to the regions including: a range of tested voter education programs, seminar series for local political party representatives in local election commissions, handbooks to local election administrators, media seminars series.
7. In four regions IESD will carry out voter education programs combined with election observation missions though temporarily hired part-time representatives. IESD will monitor:
- gubernatorial elections in Ryazan, scheduled for December 2000;
- elections to local legislatures in Kursk and Ryazan, scheduled for January and March 2001 correspondingly;
- presidential elections in Tatarstan, scheduled for March 2001;
- gubernatorial elections in Rostov-on-Don, scheduled for September 2001.
8. IESD will continue to support voters with special needs. Of these, the project will specifically target first-time voters, blind voters, and female voters.
9. IESD will maintain its relationships with legislators from the State Duma. State Duma deputies will be a primary focus in all IESD mailings and issues related to election transparency. On the other hand, IESD finds it more productive to work directly with election experts who consult Duma deputies, therefore it will cover this segment also.
10. A special election law will be adopted to allow majoritarian elections to the Parliament of the Russian-Belarus Union. IESD will assist legislators by providing comparative information and making public all the developments and findings.
11. Federal law reform will be taking shape in the nearest future. At the moment, most of what can be done by presidential decrees without directly contradicting the Constitution will be exhausted by 2001. Further measures will require major legal reform that will have to start with the Constitution. If the constitutional reform fails to get through the Duma, it will require a federal referendum. Individual laws will have to be put into compliance. The Federal Law «On Basic Guarantees of Electoral Rights and the Right of Citizens of the Russian federation to Participate in a Referendum» will be the first, with others to follow. This will require a qualified expertise of the drafts and IESD will make sure the drafts are made public so that civic organizations could lobby changes.
12. IESD will continue to monitor and process information related to the democratic development of the Russian society and publish materials on issues of importance.
This is a brief outline of activities that IESD will carry out within the framework of this project. For more information, please contact IESD.