Wednesday saw the Russian lower house – the State Duma of the fifth convocation - hold its last plenary session before the December 4 parliamentary elections.
Addressing the assembled deputies, Prime Minister Putin said Russia faced a period of uncertainty and risk and urged all parliamentarians, whether in government or opposition, to work together for the sake of their country.
“People of different political views will always be present in this hall,” Putin said. “Let us not rock the boat. We still have a lot of uncertainty factors and risks ahead of us,” he said. Putin also thanked parliamentary deputies for fruitful work and constructive co-operation with the cabinet, and outlined tasks for future.
After a brief exchange of accusations of political insincerity and a volley of stinging remarks concerning unfulfilled promises, the four factions of the lower house got down to work. The agenda was pretty packed with a bunch of draft laws needing to be approved by the deputies before summing up the results of their four years of work and waving farewell.
And it has not been an easy four years for the country. In addition to tackling the consequences of the financial crisis, it has had to face some major challenges, including the August 2008 war in the Caucasus, swiftly followed by Russia’s recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia asindependent states; the disastrous summer of 2010 with fires ravaging both lives and the economy; deadly terrorist attacks; and the rise of nationalism.
The next time Moscow’s White House opens its doors, it will be to admit newly-elected lawmakers at the end of December 2011.
The current State Duma is the last in modern Russian history to be elected for four years. Following constitutional amendments agreed by the parliament late in 2008, the 450 deputies will in future be elected for terms of five years.
In addition, at the suggestion of President Dmitry Medvedev, the threshold in Duma elections was reduced from 7 per cent to 5 per cent. The move was aimed at making it easier for smaller parties to make it to the parliament. However, the new law comes into force on January 1, 2013 and will only be effective for the 2016 Duma elections. That means that the seven parties registered to battle it out for votes on December 4 will still have to overcome the 7 per cent barrier.
As part of major reforms of the police, the fifth Duma approved a new law “On Police” that came into effect in March of this year. The document introduced a number of important changes set to make the work of law enforcement agencies more efficient. Initiated by President Medvedev, it became the first-ever piece of legislation open for nationwide discussion on the web.However, for ordinary citizens, the law is more about renaming the militia force as the police force.
Among other important events was the abolition of daylight saving time, the launch of the ambitious Skolkovo project (known as Russia’s Silicon Valley), military reform, the signing and further ratification of the new START treaty, and the introduction of a sheaf of anti-corruption measures.
Four parties are represented in the current Duma: the Communists, the Liberal-Democrats, Fair Russia and the ruling United Russia party which is led by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and holds the constitutional majority in the parliament.