Putin reforms threaten Russian rights, say former leaders

Former Russian President Boris Yeltsin and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev Friday criticized governmental changes proposed by Russian President Vladimir Putin (BBC profile) that would remove certain voting rights and further centralize power in response to a recent spate of terrorist attacks. Following the bombing of two planes and a hostage siege at a school, Putin announced earlier this week that regional governors would no longer be elected directly by people, but instead would be nominated by the president. Other changes would make it more difficult for independent deputies to be elected to the Russian legislature, the Duma. Analysts say the reforms are constitutionally questionable, and they have already been criticized by a number of European and US leaders.

In statements published Friday on MosNews.com, the website of the Moscow News, Gorbachov and Yeltsin said the changes threatened Russia's democracy and expressed wariness at the Kremlin's authoritarian drift. Asked Gorbachov:

How can you stamp out corruption without a normal parliament or free press? Without control on the part of society? But there is no movement in this direction. The reverse is happening. Under the motto of war on terror, there are suggestions of sharply limiting democratic freedoms; citizens are stripped of the opportunity to directly express their attitude toward the government by giving up elections in single-seat constituencies. This comes now, when we already have mostly government-sponsored pet parties. I know what I’m talking about: when we created the social democratic party, we felt the bureaucracy binding us hand and foot. Such a system definitely won’t aid in fighting terrorism, whereas it might facilitate the introduction of solutions painful for voters, such as canceling privileges.
Read Gorbachev's full statement here. Immediate past president Boris Yeltsin, making a very rare public comment, tempered criticism with hope about how Putin, who Yeltsin himself designated as his successor, would respond to the terrorist threat:
I firmly believe that the measures that the country’s leadership will undertake after Beslan will remain within the framework of democratic freedoms that have become Russia’s most valuable achievement over the past decade. We will not give up on the letter of the law, and most importantly, the spirit of the Constitution our country voted for at the public referendum in 1993. If only because the stifling of freedom and the curtailing of democratic rights is a victory for the terrorists. Only a democratic country can successfully resist terrorism and count on standing shoulder to shoulder with all of the world’s civilized countries.
Read Yeltsin's full statement here. Mosnews.com has more on the former leaders' criticisms of Putin's plans. Also Friday, as previously reported in JURIST's Paper Chase, Putin announced that Russia may launch preemptive attacks against terrorists, but vowed that any actions would be in accordance with international law. The Globe and Mail has more.

 

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