On June 22, 2011, Russia’s Justice Ministry rejected the opposition’s latest attempt to register an official political party. The People’s Freedom Party “For Russia without Lawlessness and Corruption,” otherwise known as PARNAS, was officially turned away for a small handful of reasons.
The most discussed issue has been the presence of “dead souls” on PARNAS’ member list. The Justice Ministry reports that its investigation revealed forty ineligible individuals on that list: two people in prison, four minors, thirteen deceased, and 21 people who denied being PARNAS members at all. Another 39 people were apparently registered in regions where they aren’t residents. PARNAS claims to have 46,148 members in total. It’s unclear whether or not the government was working from a sample study (and thus parlayed these findings into an indictment against the larger 46 thousand number). Either way, PARNAS leaders have unsurprisingly ridiculed the idea of rejecting their application because of just forty souls.
The Justice Ministry also claims illegalities in PARNAS’ Charter. Citing Article 24.5 of Federal Law 95, “On Political Parties,” the Ministry argued that the charter doesn’t rotate leaders of executive bodies or leaders of regional branches. As it turns out, Articles 26.2 and 34.2 do appear to mandate the rotation of these bodies’ leaders. Why the Justice Ministry thought it could argue otherwise remains a mystery. (One needs only to read the unambiguous text of the Charter to know that there’s no violation of FZ-95.)
The Justice Ministry also alleged that PARNAS committed “inaccuracies and contradictions,” classifying an executive body as a collective board (‘kollegial’nyi’ when it should have been ‘ispolnitel’nyi’) in Article 20 of its Charter. Once again, however, reading the actual text of the section in question reveals that the government simply misreported the content of the document. Article 20 contains no such mistakes.
The most complicated and least understood claim from the Ministry of Justice is that PARNAS violated Article 29.3 of Federal Law 7, “On Nonprofit Organizations,” which stipulates that the formulation and elimination of executive bodies must be the exclusive jurisdiction of the organization’s highest governing body (the “vysshii organ upravleniia,” in this case, a party’s Congress). The government’s rejection highlighted that PARNAS’ “Executive Director” is appointed and dismissed not by the Congress, but by the Federal Political Council (which is a ‘collective governing body’).
Here, superficially at least, the government seems to have a decent case. Read PARNAS’ Charter (excerpted below), and the Ministry’s description of the power structure is indeed accurate:
Article 20. The system of governing and auditing bodies of the party [..]
1. The highest governing body is the Congress. The standing collective governing body of the Party is Federal Political Council.
Article 26. The procedure of formation and organization of the Federal Political Council
1. Members of the Federal Political Council are elected by the Congress. […]
Article 31. Executive director of the Party
1. The executive director is appointed and dismissed by the Federal Political Council […].
In light of federal law and the language in the charter, it would be fair to say the Ministry correctly applied FZ-7. With other parties, however, the Ministry has suspiciously refrained from such vigilance.
In his impassioned (some might say ‘vitriolic’) defense of the PARNAS Charter, Boris Nemtsov has repeatedly claimed that the party “copied” its charter language from other, already-registered parties in Russia. So I took a look at charters from the country’s six biggest political parties, and discovered for myself that Nemtsov appears to be telling the truth.
The pattern across all parties seems to be this: the congress elects a standing collective governing body, which in turn elects an executive and/or an executive body.
This process is mirrored most clearly in United Russia, where the standing executive body (the Central Executive Committee) is elected by the standing collective body (the Presidium of the General Council). (See United Russia Charter, Articles 10.1, 11.1, and 11.3.) The Congress is — quite illegally — circumvented.
Yabloko’s Party Bureau elects the Executive Secretary of the Party Bureau (Articles 13.5 and 13.5.2); Pravoe Delo’s Federal Political Council elects the Executive Secretary of the Federal Political Council (Articles 23.1 and 25.1); LDPR’s High Council elects the Central Apparat (Articles 5.8 and 5.16); Spravedlivaia Rossiia’s Presidium of the Central Council elects the Bureau of the Presidium (Articles 20.1 and 20.2.4); and KPRF’s Central Committee elects both the Chairman of the Central Committee and the members of the Presidium of the Central Committee (Article 8.1).
United Russia remains the closest comparison because the other parties’ charters are not terribly clear about what constitutes an “executive body” in their organizations. Nevertheless, it’s my interpretation that none of the parties obey Federal Law 7’s provision about Congress’ exclusive jurisdiction over executive bodies. In this respect, everyone seems to have a basically identical charter — PARNAS included. (Anyone wary of this claim is encouraged to visit the links above and comb the documents, too.)
If true, the Justice Ministry’s decision against PARNAS loses the only shred of credibility still clinging. Some will take this to mean that Nemtsov, Milov, and company shouldn’t waste their time on an appeal. Others might consider it an important opportunity to ‘speak truth to power,’ even if all indications are that the state will never allow the party to be registered. In the immediate aftermath of the Ministry’s rejection, journalists, bloggers, and other blowhards rushed to their pens and keyboards in order to vent about either the bloody Putin regime or the sulking liberal democrats.
Now that there’s been some time to reflect, we can try to understand the legal issues on which this story rests. Where we go from there, I am not sure.