President Vladimir Putin's (search) plan to end the election of governors by popular vote passed its final hurdle Wednesday, when the Russian parliament's upper chamber approved the bill.
The law — part of a package that has been assailed by opposition parties and human rights monitors as an attempt by the Kremlin (search) to strengthen its authority at the expense of elected bodies — would give the president the right to appoint governors, who would then be confirmed by regional legislatures.
If lawmakers reject the president's candidate twice, he could make a new nomination, appoint an acting governor or dissolve the legislature. If a candidate is rejected for the third time, the president can dissolve the legislature without waiting for consultations to play out.
The Kremlin-loyal upper house, the Federation Council (search), approved the legislation by a vote of 145-1, with two abstentions. It now moves to the Kremlin for Putin's signature.
"The most important thing now is that we can promise the population that the mere possibility of corruption is excluded, because the president himself takes responsibility for the person he entrusts with power as the head of the region," said Yuri Chaplin, a member of the upper house.
The Federation Council also approved legislation raising the bar for political parties to get registered from 10,000 members to 50,000 and setting a minimum membership of 250 in regional branches compared to 100 now. The bill is expected to make it much harder to register new political parties.
The vote was 131 in favor, with one abstention.
Once that bill is signed into law, parties will be required to reregister by 2006.
Putin on Wednesday introduced another key bill in his political reform program, sending the lower house draft legislation that would end the election of parliament members in individual races. If passed, lawmakers would be elected solely by party lists.
Currently, the 450 seats in the lower house are equally split between those filled through party lists and those contested in district races.
Kremlin loyalists argue that district races are more vulnerable to corruption.
"Single-mandate races at times turn into a competition of dirty techniques and money, and if we leave that behind, then the election campaigns will become cleaner and more transparent," said Vyacheslav Volodin, a deputy speaker of the parliament from the pro-Putin United Russia party, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency.