15 Feb 2018 19:19

Kudrin-led think tank proposes fundamentally reforming candidate registration system

MOSCOW. Feb 15 (Interfax) - Experts from the Committee of Civil Initiatives led by former Russian Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin believe the system of nominating and registering candidates and party tickets in Russia election needs to be comprehensively and thoroughly reformed.

"One of the main problems of elections in Russia is the system of registering candidates and party tickets. Ideally, this system should filter out weak candidates who have no support from voters and cannot gain it. However, in reality, it often works just the opposite way, by easily giving weak candidates access to elections and cutting off strong ones," the committee said in a report shared with Interfax.

Four ways of registering candidates have been tried in elections in Russia over the past 25 years: one based on voters' signatures, one based on signatures of elected legislators and heads of municipalities, one based on an election deposit, and one based on a declarative principle, the report said.

"The idea of registering candidates based on voters' signatures is based on the assumption that the stronger the support a candidate enjoys, the more signatures they can collect and the easier it will be. Russian practice has, in fact, debunked this assumption. In large electoral districts where a candidate has to collect several hundred or several thousand signatures, the collection procedure has evolved into a technique requiring only money and organizational skills. Moreover, it has turned out that using this technique, it is easier to collect signatures in support of unknown candidates than for prominent politicians with a certain 'anti-rating'," the report said.

The collection of voters' signatures has been discredited by the widespread technique of forging signatures, and an attempt to counter this by applying tougher regulations has produced the opposite effect, since invalidating skillfully forged signatures as invalid is harder than invalidating real ones, the report said.

The so-called municipal filter introduced in gubernatorial elections in 2012 has also produced negative effects, it said.

"The specific parameters of this filter turned out to be such that candidates nominated by any party (except the Communist Party in some regions) cannot do without signatures of legislators elected as United Russia candidates. Hence, the key to registration belongs to the ruling party, which in fact decides whom to admit to elections," the report said.

The most convenient tool both for candidates and elections commissions was an electoral deposit, which was in effect from 1999 to 2009, it said.

"The provisions stipulating that the deposit shall be refunded to candidates garnering over 5% of the vote and parties garnering over 3%-4% of the vote were an important element of the registration system based on an electoral deposit. That said, the deposit served as an institution encouraging stronger candidates to run in elections and giving them advantages over weaker ones. However, this institution was abrogated without any substantial reasons in 2009," the report said.

The declaration-based registration procedure introduced in 2003 for parliamentary parties and their candidates (the so-called parliamentary privilege) remained in effect for a short period of time (2012-2013) for all political parties eligible to run in elections (64 as of the start of 2014), "but then more complicated regulations were introduced for granting the privilege, depending on how successfully parties performed in elections."

Apart from problems associated with the registration based on signatures, the obligation to submit a huge amount of documents also poses considerable difficulties to candidates and parties, the report said.

At the same time, the experts suggested not fully abandoning the procedure of collecting voter signatures, but minimizing it, especially in large electoral districts. One of the principal steps should be refunding election deposits, whose size should be limited by a federal law (electoral code), the report said.

"I also would not discard the facilitated (declaration-based) registration for parties that have demonstrated in elections that they enjoy the support of voters," the report said.

The author also proposed introducing a special procedure for collecting voters' signatures at specific premises under the supervision of territorial or district elections commissions. "The number of signatures required should not be larger than 0.1% of the number of voters in a district," and their verification should be decentralized, it said.

The municipal filter cannot be preserved in its current form but can be transformed into a legislator filter involving the obligation to collect signatures from legislators of various levels, with the weight of legislators' votes determined by the number of people who voted for them.

"However, this filter should not be imperative - that is, a candidate should have a choice between collecting legislators' or voters' signatures or making an electoral deposit," the report said.