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Russian Opposition Criticizes Proposed Electoral Change

21 February 2005 -- Opposition leaders say Russia's government would increase its control of parliament under a Kremlin-sponsored bill ending district parliament races.

Nationalist Homeland Party leader Dmitry Rogozin and Communist Party leader Ivan Melnikov spoke against the proposal during a forum today.

The legislation has received preliminary approval in the lower house of parliament, the State Duma, and will come up for a key second reading as early as next month.

Under the current system, the Duma's 450 seats are split equally between parties and winners of single-ballot district races.

The Kremlin-sponsored bill would have Duma members elected solely by party lists. President Vladimir Putin has said the bill would help consolidate Russia's nascent political parties.

But the opposition leaders argued that it would only strengthen the domination of the Kremlin-directed Unified Russia party and sideline independents and smaller opposition parties.