The Russian legislature on Friday passed a bill [bill profile, in Russian] that will make it easier for political parties to register with the government. The bill was introduced in response to widely disputed [France 24 report] and heavily protested [RIA Novosti] elections, which were held in December, and is part of a group of bills aimed at calming opposition groups. Specifically, the bill rolls back some of the more stringent restrictions. It reduces the number of members required for registration from 40,000 to 500, lessens the restrictions on party activities, and shortens the registration process itself. Supporters of the bill maintain that the bill represents a drastic liberalization [NYT report] of the country's election laws. Opponents of the bill argue that it will have the effect of splintering opposition groups, and that the provision allowing the registration of multiple groups with the same name will confuse voters [Financial Times report]. The Russian Duma [official website, in Russian] passed the bill on its third reading with overwhelming support, which allowed the bill to move to the upper house for approval. Before the bill can become law it will need to be signed by outgoing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev [official website, in Russian; JURIST news archive]. Medvedev is expected to sign the bill, which will go into effect with his signature, allowing newly recognized parties to participate in elections that are scheduled to be held in the fall.
Medvedev ordered an investigation [JURIST report] into allegations of fraud in the parliamentary elections, which were held in December. The investigation was ordered one week after an election fraud monitor issued preliminary findings [JURIST report] of potential widespread voter fraud. There were allegations of voting fraud in both the 2007 and 2008 Russia elections as well. In 2008, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) [official website] expressed concerns [JURIST report] about Russia's presidential elections due to alleged media restrictions and polling irregularities. In 2007, election monitoring groups Transparency International [advocacy website] and Golos stated that Russia's parliamentary elections were rife with fraud and corruption [JURIST report].