Putin signs law curbing referendum rights

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into force changes to a law on Friday that Kremlin critics say will further stifle democracy by curbing the topics that can be put to referendums.

Putin signs law curbing referendum rights
The restrictions provoked a walkout by the main opposition Communist party faction when it was put to a vote in the State Duma lower house of parliament on April 4.

The amendment to existing legislation was still passed when pro-Kremlin parliamentarians voted overwhelmingly to curtail future referendums that might affect presidential powers or budgetary issues.

Putin's signature is the final step necessary before it becomes law.

"President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, signed the federal law making changes to federal law about referendums in the Russian Federation adopted by the State Duma on 4 April 2008 and approved by the Federation Council on 16 April 2008," stated the Kremlin on Friday.

Communist deputies said the changes forbid any referendum on any matter that comes under the competence of federal authorities such as taxation, the presidential term of office or legal amnesties.

Deputies from the pro-Kremlin United Russia party say it will halt speculative attempts to hold referendums on issues that could violate the constitution.

Following Putin's signature, referendums can now only be called on local matters. Communists say it gags them from attempting to organise a nationwide vote on federal matters.

Parliamentarians from the United Russia faction control 315 of the 450 seats in the lower house following December elections.

Kremlin opponents in Russia and Western governments have accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of backtracking on democracy.

He signed the changes into law two weeks before he will hand over power next month to his favoured successor, Dmitry Medvedev, though he will serve as prime minister and has agreed to become United Russia's chairman.

In Putin's eight years in office direct elections for governors have been scrapped and a number of opposition parties have been barred from running in elections.

Western observers have said parliamentary elections last December and a March presidential election were both neither free nor fair.

Reuters
Last Mod: 25 Nisan 2008, 17:18
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