‘Even Muscovites agree with us that electoral legislation must be stable’

Changes in the upcoming electoral process are linked with the coronavirus epidemic, claimed Andrey Kondratyev. But not all deputies agreed with him

A heated discussion on amendments to electoral legislation of the republic took place at the 17th session of the Tatarstan State Council on 26 November with Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov. The amendments particularly fix the possibility of holding three-day voting in different elections at regional level, cancel it in some municipalities in the case of emergency and permit voting at railway stations and airports. Some deputies were against the amendments citing recent scandals about the “stump voting” and unstable game rules that change almost before every election. The Tatarstan State Council’s Speaker Farid Mukhametshin surprisingly agreed that the bill raised a lot of questions.

Epidemiological amendments

Chairman of the Tatarstan Central Election Commission Andrey Kondratyev voiced the amendments to the Electoral Code or, more precisely, the project of the law of the Republic of Tatarstan No. 122-6 On Amendments to the Electoral Code of the Republic of Tatarstan and Some Legislative Acts of the Republic of Tatarstan at the session. He explained their urgency by the fact that the epidemiological situation was complicated and electoral campaigns in many countries were at the moment accompanied by an aggravated political situation and conflicts.

Also, the new changes will allow postponing voting because of a state of emergency or high alert in some municipalities, they also prohibit candidates who were previously sentenced for a misdemeanour from declaring their candidacy during five years after the sentence is cancelled (earlier, the candidates sentenced for serious and very serious crimes were prohibited from declaring their candidacy).

The amendments that mainly permit holding three-day voting and voting at railway stations and airports caused a great outcry in the State Council, the majority of deputies, by the way, had their masks on. Popular representatives doubted the necessity of such amendments that, they think, might “question the legitimacy of elections”. Many deputies claimed that electoral legislation couldn’t change too often like now.

Mainly CPRF deputies criticised the changes, however, even the Tatarstan State Council’s Speaker Farid Mukhametshin agreed with them. But Andrey Kondratyev thinks that “we should be proactive” in the current conditions, while Mobile Voter project showed its efficacy in Tatarstan. People’s representatives tabled the issue of providing an effective educational process that might be violated by the three-day voting in September 2021 because elections primarily take place in schools. For instance, polling stations are often organised in more than 600 schools in Tatarstan, over 5,000 teachers work there as members of the Polling Board.

“It is our sore point,” Kondratyev had to agree. “A lot of proposals have been discussed at federal level: to hold elections in post offices, in Multifunctional Centres, in social services. But an alternative hasn’t been found yet. Now debates on the possibility of announcing school holidays during elections are held now, but there is no official document yet [regulating such a norm].”

The head of the Tatarstan CEC supposes that the only thing representatives of the election process can do is to totally disinfect polling stations to at least provide the safety of citizens and schools. He assured the audience that these processes as well as new norms of electoral legislation in general didn’t require any additional public funding. Even considering the upcoming federal election campaign of deputies, the budget is already known, and nowadays the Tatarstan CEC is obtaining approval for it, Kondratyev added.

“We didn’t hold elections on stumps in Tatarstan!”

CPRF deputy Artyom Prokofyev noted that according to the norms that were introduced, changes to the legislative process could be made even without any pandemic. In his opinion, “according to the supreme commission’s decision”, the future elections, in theory, can be held not for three days but for a week. Clause 18 Article 77 on outdoor voting also confused him: the deputy remembered the scandal during the latest elections with the “voting on stumps”.

“Don’t you think that such resolutions will undermine the legitimacy of the election process itself?” he asked the speaker a question.

“We didn’t hold elections on stumps in Tatarstan! It was just a transmission of what happened in other Tatarstan districts to our campaign,” Kondratyev was indignant about the communists’ insinuations.

He also assured the audience that after long discussions including with representatives of the CPRF, the CEC made sure that the new norms would allow holding the electoral campaign well. Kondratyev reminded the deputies that it became possible to provide citizens with safety and convenience of voting only thanks to the Tatarstan management’s decision before the latest September elections at the height of the pandemic:

“The Tatarstan management quickly made decisions that allowed following instructions of Russia’s consumer rights protection watchdog without manoeuvres. Now we live in a different reality and should always be ready. Look at the elections in neighbouring countries. When there aren’t safe methods, there are problems with the voter’s health...”

Kondratyev considers that the possibility of three-day voting — even not during the pandemic — provides citizens with a convenient time to make a decision on whom to choose. “There is less pressure in this case, there is time to think, make a choice.” However, he agreed with the disadvantages. They particularly cite scandals with the “voting on stumps”. He also had to agree with the fact that “legislation changes too often” nowadays.

“Game rules change in every election!”

Khafiz Mirgalimov, the head of the CPRF, compared the three-day election campaign in September 2020 with the Russian presidential election in 1996 (when Boris Yelstin who had the lowest approval percentage among Russians shortly before the election unexpectedly defeated communist Gennady Zyuganov). He doubted that the norms of electoral legislation should change due to force majeure because Russia “has had force majeure for 30 years already”.

“Game rules change in every election! For instance, turnout was cancelled, a municipal filter was introduced that candidates find it hard to go through without a large party’s support. It is necessary to attract over a million observers to control current elections,” he noted. “I will never believe that the Election Commission will decide to hold three-day or one-day voting 10 days to the election campaign. Of course, the decision on holding the three-day one will be made!”

Instead of holding hygienically clean elections from a perspective of sanitary norms, the communist thinks, “hygienically clean elections” should be held from a perspective of their honesty. In this case, there won’t be such twists and turns “like in Belarus, Kyrgyzstan or the USA”. Mirgalimov was also indignant about the situation when a lot of candidates learnt about the appearance of new polling stations in some districts of the republic (“We are participants in the campaign, we don’t even know at times that new polling stations have appeared in a district!”). He thinks that the new election norms had more cons than pros.

Tatarstan State Council speaker agrees the new bill raises a lot of questions

“The bill raises a lot of questions at the moment, including regarding the day of the elections to the Russian State Duma, safety and teachers,” Tatarstan State Council Speaker Farid Mukhametshin unexpectedly agreed with the opponents to the amendments. “Even Muscovites agree with us that electoral legislation must be stable, not change often”.

However, coronavirus required to seriously consider citizens’ safety, the speaker added and anyway urged the deputies to vote for the new bill because the deputies would have a chance of making their amendments to it until 26 December. Mukhametshin also promised to protect voters and provide the elections’ legitimacy. In the end, 71 deputies voted in favour, 7 against, two abstained.

2021 budget deficit rises 2,5 times and already totals 7bn rubles

Moreover, the deputies also adopted Tatarstan’s budget at the third hearing. The budget has risen 2,5 times in a month due to amendments and clarifications with a deficit of 7bn rubles. So according to the republic’s budget bill for 2021 and 2022-2023, budget revenues next year are due to be 274,6bn rubles, costs — 281,7bn rubles. We should remind you that the deficit was estimated to be 3bn rubles. The Tatarstan Ministry of Finance evaluated incomes in 2021 at 268,5bn rubles, costs — at 271,5bn rubles. It turns out that forecasted incomes increased by 6bn rubles, while necessary costs did just by 10bn. Now budget spending again depends on the economic situation and oil prices or federal subventions.

According to the bill, incomes in 2022 are expected to amount to 279,8bn rubles, the deficit will reach 6bn rubles. In 2023, Tatarstan’s budget revenues are considered to be 282,8bn rubles, costs — 288,9bn rubles, deficit — 6,2bn rubles.

Tatarstan State Council Speaker Farid Mukhametshin called the budget “tense” but real given the complicated situation.

By Sergey Afanasyev

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