Veto on Rally Amendment ‘Surprising’ and ‘Cowardly’

Dmitri Medvedev. Source: Komsomolskaya PravdaIn a surprise move that has left Russian lawmakers scrambling to save face, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev used his veto power for the first time ever over the weekend to turn down a federal amendment that would have severely impeded upon the rights of Russian citizens to free assembly.

The initiative was authored by legislative deputies from the Kremlin-backed United Russia party, a Just Russia, and Liberal Democratic Party of Russia. It was passed by both houses of parliament in late October. If signed by the president, the amendment would have put a stipulation into the current legislation governing demonstrations, rallies, and other public gatherings to ban anyone previously convicted of even minor administrative offenses from organizing such a gathering for a year. It also imposed restrictions on demonstrations using cars, a move apparently targeted at protesters in the recently-created Blue Bucket Society.

Medvedev laid out his grievances with the proposed amendment in an open letter to State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov and Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov. In it, the president states that the amendment “contains proposals that complicate the ability of citizens to freely realize their constitutional right to hold gatherings, rallies, demonstrations, marches, and pickets.” It would also limit citizens’ right to participate in the management of state affairs and freely express their personal opinions, he said.

After the amendment was passed by the State Duma and Federation Council, a group of prominent Russian rights activists sent President Medvedev an open letter that decried the amendment as unconstitutional and asked him to turn it down. Signatories to the letter included Lyudmila Alexeyeva, Lev Ponomarev, Yelena Bonner, Oleg Orlov and Svetlana Gannushkina.

Medvedev’s decision to veto the amendment – which, according to the Novy Region news agency, is the first time he has used it ever – may have been a result of those calls.

“How could I call the president’s decision irrational? He came to a compromise with public opinion, which was critical [of the proposal],” United Russia deputy Sergei Markov told the newspaper Kommersant.

In a statement posted on United Russia’s website, senior party member Andrei Vorobyov said that while the veto is rarely used in Russia, the president fully has this right and “there is nothing extraordinary in the current situation.” He said his party was willing to revamp the amendment, but did not specify what this might entail.

“We will act in the logic of the president’s decision,” he said.

Oppositionists were shocked at the president’s announcement.

Sergei Kanaev, head of the Moscow branch of the Federation of Automobile Owners of Russia, told that his organization was grateful to Medvedev.

“In principal, the president showed willpower and responsibility; his step deserves respect,” Kanaev said.

“For me, this was a surprise,” said Left Front leader Sergei Udaltsov, who explained that the whole process of getting the amendment passed by the parliament made it look as if the president was sure to sign it.

While Udaltsov praised the president’s decision, he noted that current legislation governing demonstrations and rallies is severely flawed and demands revision.

The coming days “will show how strong the president’s desire is to deal with this situation, or if it was a tactical move,” said the opposition leader.

Other Russia party leader Eduard Limonov was less than thrilled with the veto.

“We have hundreds of repressive laws, and this is not a cause for a great amount of joy,” he said. “Medvedev has displayed some common sense, but also, probably, cowardice, because he understands that the boiler is going to burst.”