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Russia limits political parties

Putin says restrictions on parties will strengthen the political system  

MOSCOW, Russia -- A controversial law creating strict conditions for the registration of political parties has been signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Putin says the move will strengthen the political system by creating a few major parties, instead of small splintered groupings, but critics charge that it will reduce pluralism and reduce parties' independence.

In its year-long passage, the bill was bitterly opposed by the Communists and the reformist Union of Right Forces and their allies in the Duma, Russia's lower house, but easily passed the upper house and was signed into law by Putin on Thursday.

To register a political party is now required to have at least 10,000 members -- with 100 or more in each of Russia's 89 regions -- and regularly field candidates in elections, The Associated Press reported.

The new rules also limit private donations to $100 a year and forbid foreign contributions, making parties heavily dependent on government financing -- available if a party receives more than three percent of the vote.

After the fall of one-party Communism the number of political parties in Russia swelled to more than 200 with voters facing long ballot papers including candidates standing for such parties as "Beerlovers."

Many of the groupings have however become inactive with 26 parties competing in the 1999 parliamentary election, down from 43 four years before.

Narrowing the race further, Thursday saw two major groups, the pro-Putin Unity and Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov's Fatherland, formalising their alliance, AP reported.

Luzhkov and Unity's leader, Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu, are to be the co-chairmen of the new grouping, which has strongly backed Putin.

In a message to the congress in Moscow formalising their alliance, Putin described the move as "an important step toward strengthening and perfecting the party system in Russia and the building of a strong civil society," AP reported.

"National interests have come to dominate over the interests of parties."

• Duma
• Russian Government

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