On Wednesday the Federation Council approved the federal constitutional law "On the Referendum in the Russian Federation." There were 136 votes for the law, 5 against it and 4 abstentions. (134 votes are needed to pass a law.)
The chairman of the Federation Council constitutional legislation committee, Yuri Sharandin, said that the law was prepared with due account for the experience of holding elections that was accumulated over the past decade, as well as the experience of advancing a number of initiatives to hold referendums.
"The new law envisages broadening of the circle of entities that have the right to initiate referendums, improvement of the procedure for implementing the Russian citizens' initiative to hold a referendum, and tightening control of the voting and the tallying of the results of an all-Russia poll," he said.
According to him, the new law also requires 2 million signatures need to be collected in support of a request for a referendum. Now, the signatures must be collected in not less than half of Russia's regions. Initiative groups consisting of 100 members each will be formed to collect signatures.
"The new federal constitutional law regulates in detail issues relating to the collection of signatures in support of holding a referendum, campaigning, and the financial support of a referendum," Mr. Sharandin said.
The cost of holding a referendum was also mentioned in his speech. Mr. Sharandin cited the government's opinion of the law, according to which, if a referendum is to be held in 2005, the federal budget funds needed to hold it would amount to 2.8 billion rubles in prices and tariffs as of April 1, 2004 ($1 = 29 rubles).
The head of Russia's Central Election Commission, Alexander Veshnyakov said that the law may come into force in July.
According to him, the law will protect democracy in Russia and will prevent it from being discredited. "This law is needed," he said.
In Mr. Veshnyakov's opinion, the new edition of the law "envisages a more open, transparent and responsible mechanism for holding referendums, considering the federal system of Russia and its immense territory."
"The Federation Council very carefully studied this draft law and participated in adopting a number of amendments to it," Mr. Veshnyakov said.
Now the law will be submitted to the president for signing.