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Meeting with leaders of parties that gained State Duma seats following elections

September 23, 2016, The Kremlin, Moscow

Vladimir Putin met with leaders of political parties that gained seats in the State Duma based on election results.

The President congratulated meeting participants on winning the State Duma elections. Mr Putin also asked the 7th State Duma deputies to support Vyacheslav Volodin as a candidate for State Duma Speaker.

Yesterday State Duma Speaker Sergei Naryshkin was appointed Director of the Foreign Intelligence Service of the Russian Federation.

 * * *

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, colleagues,

The results of the elections held on September 18 have been officially announced. I have just had a meeting with members of the Central Election Commission, and we talked about it and confirmed once again that the election had been held in accordance with all the legal requirements.

Russian citizens have determined the new composition of the Russian parliament by a direct, free expression of their will. I must add that parliamentary parties have once again reaffirmed their high standing, and showed that they play a system-shaping role in the political setup of our country and enjoy the support and trust of the voters, of the citizens.

Success in the election, as you well know, is always a new challenge, a new milestone, because people have their expectations from the election, and we have to work to justify these expectations. Parliament is elected to address national issues, issues that voters raise for various government bodies to address, including for the supreme legislative body. Here a direct, open and honest dialogue with citizens is crucial; we have repeatedly talked about it before.

The election was based on a mixed system that you had unanimously supported – half of the deputies are elected to parliament from single-mandate constituencies. This means a closer and more reliable connection between the lower house, the State Duma, Russian regions and territories. I hope feedback will also be used more efficiently.

The mixed system enables parties to be represented in the State Duma on a broader basis. True, this is not a very significant amount, but still minor parties now have people who can use the public rostrum of the State Duma to formulate and defend their position. And this is also an indication of greater political and party competition.

The United Russia party has won the majority in the new State Duma. It will bear responsibility for both the quality of the law-making efforts and also a constructive dialogue with other parties represented in the Russian parliament. I hope this work will be based on a consistent and respectful attitude to the parliamentary minority.

Although this is a matter for parliament and the United Russia party, I believe it expedient to keep the seat distribution in the major committees as it was in the previous Duma, even though United Russia has received many mandates this time. I think this would contribute to more constructive work with all the parties represented in parliament.

Approving the budget is a priority for the State Duma. I expect that the parliamentarians will promptly become involved in this work. We do this every day – the day before yesterday and yesterday, when we finished around 10 pm.

That work is difficult and you know this well; many of you have become professional financiers, representatives of [the Government’s] social cluster. This is why I urge you to join the efforts without delay. And from the very beginning, please establish close, meaningful and constructive cooperation with the Government of the Russian Federation.

Let me add that the State Duma has numerous new members. I hope, however, that the continuity will be assured. Primarily this has to do with being consolidated to address the key national development tasks and be ready to put aside inter-party differences, which are inevitable, of course, but still should be pushed into the background in discussions of the key issues so as to achieve common goals in the interests of society and national development. I am confident that the new composition of the deputy corps is fully prepared for serious and responsible work.

Next there is a personnel issue. You know that yesterday I offered Sergei Naryshkin the post of head of one of the most serious organisations in the state system, in the state machinery, the Foreign Intelligence Service. He accepted the offer and therefore will be unable to continue his work as a State Duma deputy and Parliament Speaker.

This brings to the fore the need to elect a new State Duma speaker. This issue is certainly within the exclusive purview of the deputy corps, but Mr Medvedev and I will ask [them] (United Russia at any rate) to support the candidacy of Vyacheslav Volodin. I would like to inform you about this, if you as the faction leaders will think it possible, accordingly, to respond to this in a consolidated manned.

Mr Volodin knows what parliamentary work is; he was a deputy himself for a long time, and while on the Presidential Executive Office he maintained direct contacts with the deputy corps, the faction leaders and with the parties. This was part of his professional duties. I hope all of this will help him to manage the work in the lower house of Parliament. If, of course, the deputies adopt a relevant decision.

This is what I wanted to say in the beginning.

Mr Medvedev, do you want to add anything?

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev: Sure.

Mr President, colleagues,

The President has just mentioned the need for consolidated efforts, especially on key aspects of national development, the formation of the state budget and the resolution of urgent social issues.

Addressing my colleagues from other political forces, I would like to say that the United Russia party is ready for this, as well as the Government of the Russian Federation. We have always maintained working relations with all parliamentary parties. Naturally, we also hope to work with the new State Duma in the manner described by the President just now.

Political scientists and different experts will discuss the results of the election campaign for a long time but it is already perfectly obvious that our political system is developing. This time many more parties stood in the State Duma elections. Indeed, not all of them surpassed the barriers but it is nonetheless obvious that parliamentary parties again received support from a considerable part of our population, voters of the Russian Federation. However, there are new people as well, and most important the elections to our State Duma were held under an entirely new system. Many deputies represented regions and there were many single-mandate deputies, and apparently, this will also exert influence on the work of the State Duma. I hope this will be a fresh and interesting influx that will allow it to respond to our most pressing issues.

I would like to confirm once again that United Russia as a political force and a party that, after the elections to the State Duma, has a constitutional majority and the Government of the Russian Federation are ready for such work. Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Mr Vasilyev, go ahead please.

United Russia faction leader and Deputy Speaker of the State Duma Vladimir Vasilyev: Thank you very much.

I would like to note that your proposal to nominate Vyacheslav Volodin is certainly very interesting for us and we are supporting it all the way because he worked in the Government, is very familiar with the Duma and works in the Executive Office. He knows how to set tasks that make everyone work as best as they can.

We see the style of his work and I think that it will by all means positively affect the work of our parliament in conditions which you, Mr President, defined as very uneasy, when it will be necessary to maintain the balance of interests of all political forces, and, most important, to ensure national development and people’s interests. I hope we will cope with this task. At any rate I cannot but express my opinion on this score. Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you.

Mr Zyuganov, please.

Leader of the Communist Party faction in the State Duma Gennady Zyuganov: Mr President, here we see people who are responsible for two major issues. First, to preserve stability in our country that we all care about, and second, to preserve unity in our society, a prerequisite for overcoming sanctions and the crisis.

Speaking about Mr Naryshkin, we congratulate him on his new office. I believe his work in the Parliament was highly efficient. He has proved his ability to communicate with all parties and find solutions that would suit us all, in a tactful and professional manner. Mr Volodin has an example to follow. At least, I would personally draw a great deal from Mr Naryshkin’s style of work and experience.

Turning to the situation in general, we have heard you, Mr President. I listened to and studied closely your December Address [to the Federal Assembly], where you said directly that the elections must be conducted in a way that the nation will trust their results. You followed by coming to the Duma, the first such visit in many years, to call on all the parties to make sure that the elections become primarily a contest of teams and programmes.

So, after you gave us energetic support with regard to the legislation on the industrial policy, strategic planning, and popular enterprises – which managed, even during the crisis, to become the best in the country – on education, on science and a number of other initiatives, we drafted a package of bills and put together a strong, professional team to be ready to engage in an open and professional dialogue.

Unfortunately, a political landscape with 77 parties – a unique case globally – of which 14 have took part in the elections, hasn’t been conducive to normal dialogue. I do not think it is a good thing, because if there had been a contest of teams, this dialogue could have resulted in solutions rather than mutual criticism.

On the other hand, we are very concerned about the increasing pressure on our economy. I have held nearly 500 meetings and I must tell you that 72 out of 100 our citizens earn 15,000 rubles, or less, a month. We failed to pass a nationwide law on benefits to WWII children in the last Parliament, but even they are entitled to 12,000 rubles a month on average. Given that the inflation has halved this sum, this law is a priority. It would require 120 billion rubles, which is feasible regardless of the crisis, and these people need all the support we can give them.

I would like to draw our colleagues’ attention to the fact that nationalism, Russophobia and anti-Soviet sentiments were the weapons used against the Soviet Union. Ukraine was set on fire after they did away with all the communists, demolished all the communist monuments, and started purging all things Russian and foreign. We must note, Mr President, that nothing of the sort has come to pass in Russia even during this past election campaign.

There have been many attempts to settle the score with me. A group of high-ranking functionaries from our party has been ostracised, which has never happened before. Mr Obukhov, for instance, was banned from taking part in the elections, as was Mr Solovyov. Mr Kalashnikov, one of the most experienced specialists in international affairs, stood in his hometown of Togliatti. There, he secured the win in the city’s largest industrial district, Avtozavodsky, but lost 3 to 1 in the rural district, which is virtually impossible. The same happened to Admiral Komoyedov in Sevastopol, in Crimea and in the Kaliningrad Region.

We have always done well there. This time, however, even a renowned admiral, who has done so much for the country’s defence and to support the Defence Ministry, failed to make it to the Duma on the party list. I am not even speaking about the situation in Moscow, where our leader was hit with five anti-Communist propaganda publications. When I ran for President in 1996, such negative materials were produced in Finland – they were ashamed to publish them in Russia. The situation in Moscow was absurd.

What I would emphasise is how important security is for all of us. We are all very concerned that the country’s economy has stalled. The decline in recent years has reached critical levels. We all need to find a way out.

Let me give you the results in two ballot stations, where they are 100 percent clean. Ballot station No. 2765 is in the neighbourhood of Moscow State University, and 33 percent voted for Yabloko, over 20 for the Communist Party, 15.7 for United Russia, 11 for PARNAS, 4.5 for A Just Russia. I can continue, but this is not the point.

The point is that central Moscow is an elite area with the highest housing prices, and home to Government ministers, and yet Yabloko and PARNAS together have 44 percent of the vote. This is very disconcerting, because I have seen PARNAS proposals and they have nothing in common with our national interests, nothing. They were rather bold in that regard. Another result – Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, Moscow Region’s Dolguprudnensky District. Yabloko gets 36 percent, the Communist Party 16 percent, United Russia – 12, the Party of Growth – 11, PARNAS – 8.4. Again, Yabloko and PARNAS got 45 percent of the vote.

We should look closely at this. If we take Moscow and Leningrad (St Petersburg), the turnout was the lowest there. At 6 pm, the turnout in Moscow was at 28 percent, in Leningrad at 25. The final figure stood at less than 35, meaning that only a third of our voters cast their ballots, and here we are talking about our two principle cities that should serve as models for the rest of the country.

As to the republics, we have an odd picture here. I have brought some materials along and I hope you will look through them. I am not being critical or spiteful, I want the country to live in peace and friendship, and I will do anything to support the state patriotic line as it is the salvation for the country.

But will you please look into how we vote. Two neighbouring republics, Bashkortostan and Tatarstan, I have been in both. At the time they stole 600,000 votes from me in Tatarstan, I sued them and the case went on for almost three years but I proved in the Supreme Court that it was theft, and the votes were given back.

In Tatarstan we have 4.6 percent, in Bashkortostan – 18.6. Mordovia and Mari El are also close to each other. After Mordovia, I appealed to you, you took steps, the local leader, he shook in his shoes but, nevertheless, continued the line. And this time we have five percent in Mordovia, while in Mari El – your services checked him out and I have no clue how he managed to keep his post, but I realise that last time he bled us dry. We sent almost 1,500 observers there. In Mordovia we got 5.1 whereas in Mari El – 27.3 percent. I think the result of 4–5 percent indicates a totally criminal election, they never even did the ballot count.

As to the crime areas, it is very disturbing. Things remain the same in Daghestan. Mordovia, Rostov, Nizhny Novgorod and Samara are the regions which have always had a tough reputation. I was shocked, to be honest, that in Nizhny Novgorod they worked out a whole scheme. I am going to leave you a film: I must confess we planted a guy in that thievery structure that occupied everything there, and shot everything. All you have to do is watch it and instruct the special services to investigate, because a criminal gang of about 15 people has set up base there. The footage shows the whole chain, we just have to protect the guy that did the recording so they don’t deal away with him.

But what struck me, last time you rebuffed [her], and Ms Pamfilova [Chairperson of the Central Election Commission], you have to give her credit, by the way, she tried her best to bring elementary order there. Last year the fathom polling stations which did not exist, 42 stations, they set them up at cemeteries, up to 2,000 dead people voted for the party in power. They are just lawless, they have to be brought to order.

We held a parallel vote count, made up an electronic system, which was easier since the polling stations have video cameras. The system was working until about half past midnight, then everything stopped, got suspended. With the parallel vote count in the Far East and Eastern Siberia the first results coincided with those that were shown: 37 percent to United Russia, Communist Party – 22 percent, Liberal Democratic Party of Russia –17 to 18 percent, A Just Russia – 10 to 12 percent, which was closer to reality. Then everything stopped.

What is startling, even in Shchyolkovo district we had Yeremeitseva running, a smart woman, a journalist, and she was leading with 10 to 15 percent, and then it all collapsed. When we woke up in the morning – she was already losing by 10 percent, but they kept counting, I think another day and a half. What we all have to analyse is the fact that the party in power had 45 million votes in 2007, this is very powerful support, and exceptionally crucial. In the crisis, critical moments the widespread support of the society is crucial.

This year the party in power received 28.7 million votes; they lost 17 million. I understand that there are issues and reasons: if the GDP growth in 2012 was 3.4 percent, last year it was minus 3.7, and we are still in a recession. Losing 7 percent in five years means nearly 90 trillion rubles less in the budget. That amounts to two current budgets. And this may cause the people’s response.

I know Russia’s destiny; I have written a series of major works on it. My book Globalisation as the Destiny of Humankind has been translated into all of the world’s major languages. We have a great deal dependent on the authority of the head of state. We have been and continue doing everything for the country’s leadership to have authority.

Russia cannot survive without a strong vertical of power, fairness, spirituality, collectivism. But your authority is also the authority of the whole nation, and we must take care of it, it cannot serve just one party. This is of paramount importance for all of us today, tomorrow and in the future.

Now you are looking for a solution to balance the situation in the Duma. It can probably be balanced but under the current Constitution you have more powers that the General Secretary [of the Communist Party], and twice as much as the US President. A great deal in the nearest future will depend on your stance.

The foreign policy stance, state-oriented, patriotic, gets a tremendous support. The home policy, liberal economic and financial, if it continues, will lead to the situation when we have nothing to fund our defence, science or education with. Let us look for a solution, and we are ready to offer maximum efforts for that.

It is exceptionally important for us because the executive authority is entirely in your hands. As for the Duma, such a majority may not be satisfactory. Even if we add up the three factions, they will be at best able to appeal to the Constitutional Court, 100 plus votes. It should somehow be balanced in the Committees but we have to take into account that a tripartite system has evolved in Russia.

Many people are now overboard, they have enormous connections, they influence the public opinion and attitudes. I want them to work with a constructive result, this is of ultimate importance to us because tensions are going to increase under the current budget. And next year is the centenary of the October revolution, so we must find a solution together. The Soviet Union did not fall to the Hitler; it was destroyed by anti-Soviet sentiments, Russophobia and nationalism. The country was given to Banderovites and CIA agents, not by the Nazis, but Russophobia, anti-Soviet sentiments and nationalism.

We must retain the sense of responsibility, and we are ready to invest a maximum of our capital, talent and personnel. We have retained the strongest, most respected personnel, including those who used to work in the committees. We have drafted a new law on education for everyone and in support of science. We have unique experience of working with people’s enterprises. The enterprise Mr Medvedev salvaged, Zvenigovsky, became Europe’s best: it won at the Frankfurt Fair, got all the gold medals and was recognised as the best in Europe.

We have considerable experience from China, Belarus and our neighbours. Let us collect the best experience and move forward. I would rather we take a closer look at China’s experience, Xi Jinping is disposed towards you. I made friends with him back when he was Mayor of Shanghai. The Chinese yielded the second result after the USSR. In the 30 years of Lenin-Stalin modernisation, the USSR had 16.4 percent average growth rate. The Chinese, following Deng Xiaoping’s reforms, had 12 percent. They decided against settling old scores, and they aspired forward and upward. And you can see their results.

We are ready to serve Russia as much as possible but we would like this service to be centred around real programmes and a decent government.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much.

We certainly have a great deal to learn from our partners and our neighbours. We also have a lot of positive experience to share with them. It is always ill advised to settle old scores, but they started doing that back in the Soviet Union. Different party congresses raised the issues of various hard pages in our history. Let historians debate if this was right or not. There were definitely some positive things, and there were things that were working to break the system. It is a different matter whether it is good or bad.

You know what I think of the collapse of the Soviet Union. There was absolutely no need for it, there could have been transformations made, including those of a democratic nature. Let me draw your attention to the fact that it was the Communist Party that was at the helm of our Fatherland, the USSR, not any other party that determined the ideas of nationalism or other destructive ideas hazardous for any state, the more so for such a multi-ethnic country as Russia.

As to the substantive issues you have mentioned, they are certainly a concern for us. These are the state of the economy, which means the state of the social sphere, and the defence of the country. We must address all that, undoubtedly, and we should address it in a productive way in the interests of Russia’s citizens.

Regarding election fraud. We just spoke about that at the meeting with the Central Election Commission. They also recorded certain violations, and will surely deal with them. At the same time, there is a general opinion that the overall election system, let me stress it, was very efficient and transparent. We have to achieve even more transparency, and we also have to think about the technical elements of the ballot count and conducting election campaigns. We spoke about that in much detail today.

The Central Election Commission members have their own proposals which I think are fairly constructive related to the use of modern equipment both in the ballot count and in monitoring the voting, the issues of substance on the organisation of the territorial election boards, which would raise the transparency, the quality, and the end result. We have to increase the number of representatives.

What did we do? Let me remind you that half of the election commissions were made up of political parties representatives, that’s number one. Second, you had the opportunity to increase the number of observers at the polling stations to the desired level. It may have been due to some administrative or financial shortages but not all the parties used it in full and did not have the number of observers they could have had. But in any case, we must pay greater attention to what you have conveyed, regarding the elimination of any violations. What is the rationale?

Because our country and our political system will be sustainable and stable as long as we will be able to ensure the legitimacy of the election process, but the people, the citizens, must see that their attitudes, their preferences are reflected in the setup of the representative, and then also of the executive bodies. This is the only way to ensure the legitimacy of the elected structures. So we will be working in that direction.

Mr Zhirinovsky, welcome.

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the State Duma Vladimir Zhirinovsky: We can envy Mr Naryshkin as he has received a good post; he continues to make progress. And we are happy for Mr Volodin because it is to our advantage in parliament if the Speaker is a former Deputy. We got to know him back when he was a Deputy; in past years he has been working with the political parties and the State Duma, and was involved in the elections, so in this respect we are happy for both of them, they have both received great new posts.

There is another personnel issue, Mr President, a request. I ask you on behalf of all Liberal Democratic Deputies: we have been fighting for the post of International Affairs Committee Chairman. The Liberal Democratic Party won while the Committee goes to Mr Yavlinsky. Then others get to chair it. There have been five or six chairpersons. Leonid Slutsky is here, he has a reputation as a very competent leader; he has really done much more than many of the International Affairs Committee chairpersons.

The key issue for us is the Crimea blockade. It was he who took a delegation there last year, and this year too. The diplomats failed to do that, the entire Foreign Ministry didn’t do it, none of the parties did it, while he did it all by himself, I hate to mention that he also did it at his own expense.

Moreover, in PACE, the most important body of the parliamentary assembly, he is in his element, known by everyone, he does everything, insists on a French Parliament resolution to be adopted with an appeal to the Government of France on suspending the sanctions. He does that, he saw to this, not the French deputies. He has a lot of experience in many issues, including those concerning our closest neighbours. The man did a great deal, he succeeds, he is respected by all the Duma parties, and he put together a very strong team.

Of course, United Russia may have a candidate but we have seen this already. Last time we also discussed these things but then Mr Pushkov was in. Well, did he do anything more or better than Slutsky? This issue is not about party affiliation, the issue is how competent the person is. I strongly request that you consider our suggestion, our recommendation; maybe you will be able to assist us so Leonid Slutsky becomes head of the International Affairs Committee. He is here, and all his work is a confirmation of that. The Foreign Ministry is also sympathetic towards him, they know him.

Even when you flew to Kyrgyzstan to open a new school, they did it. This is also an issue in the Russian world, and it means that it is everywhere, worldwide. I would compare him to a Carter-era Kissinger, but he is even better. We have never asked specifically for a committee chairperson position yet, and we have never been able to have it in the past 23 years even though we keep proposing. However, we might succeed now because the issue has not been decided yet. As far as I know, the CPRF deputies have no objections; they are willing to support him, and another party may also be ready to.

Now regarding the elections. The State Duma session can start early; it depends on the Presidential decree. According to the law, it is 30 days after the elections, but you might issue an Executive Order and we can begin in early November. I would like to make some amendments specifically to the election legislation. I believe only political parties and only those represented in parliament should be eligible to nominate candidates for President. If a party fails to get 5 percent of the vote in the preceding elections, how can it nominate a presidential candidate? It has the trust of only a half a percent of the nation but can join the presidential elections. I think we must filter this. First earn your position in parliament, and then you can nominate a presidential candidate.

We fought hard to give the political parties the right to recall election board members. We are denied this right and this cannot help but arouse our suspicions. If it is our member of the election board, why can’t we recall them? If they are incompetent, or betray us or something else. No, we have to wait another five years.

We can substitute them in 2017, but the State Duma elections are over. We reshuffled the Central Election Board prior to the elections whereas the grassroots boards are to be reshuffled after the elections. It has always been like this: if someone delegates a person, they have the right to recall that person. The way you can recall ambassadors. No, let him be an ambassador for ten years. The President appoints ambassadors, and if they fail to perform you recall them. Meanwhile we cannot recall a regular election board member because the local authorities like him. This is not very productive.

The distribution of mandates. I think the situation here is wrong. People voted for a party, whereas now we have two deputies in one region and no deputies in another. We want to work for the whole country. Why should there be obstacles to this? Let us delegate the mandates. All we want is proportionate distribution. There are 85 constituent entities, we do not have 85 deputies, we have, let us say, 40, we will assign one deputy per two regions. No, we cannot do that.

They start nitpicking: “Here he got more votes.” Voters do not know where, in which region and how many more (a half a percent). Why is this so? Why all this book-keeping? Give us our 40 deputies; we will select one for each region. For example, we have two deputies in the Transbaikal Territory and two deputies in the Moscow Region; in some areas there are two deputies while in others – none. Give the political parties this right.

This also concerns single-mandate constituencies. Mr Naryshkin’s constituency has gone vacant. Now we have to wait a year, while there is a deputy to replace him. Give the political parties this right. Let us retain the constituencies but the nomination should be made via the parties only. Then we will have 225 candidates elected and 225 coming through the party lists.

Besides, look at the totals: the CPRF supposedly beat us by .02 percent. However, if we add up all the election results across the country, the number of LDPR votes is higher. I am not sure, I was not very good at math, but if the majority of the voters went with this party, how come in the end it has fewer votes? Who is counting the votes? We have a 16.08 percent support in the local legislature elections, the Communists have 16. We have .08 percent more. Whereas at the federal level they calculated it in such a way that we have .02 percent less. We need to have to look at this math. And it looks odd, now we are ahead, then at a certain point they overtake us. When, how? They have good voter support in the North Caucasus, we have good support in the Far East; it is balanced. And in the centre? It is not always evident from the numbers.

Regarding the turnout. I suggest that you, Mr President, should always feel suspicious when the turnout swells after 6 pm. All over the world voters come to the polling stations from noon to 3 pm. If the turnout swells from 6 pm to 8 pm, it is rigged, ballot box stuffing, and since empty ballots cannot be dumped, they stuff marked ballots to support the right party. We do not care about the turnout, let it be higher, but when they stuff ballot boxes with another party marked, it automatically reduces our votes.

Nevertheless, look at the ballot count: the LDPR lost the least, United Russia finished with minus 4 million, the Communists and A Fair Russia – 5 million, LDPR – minus 600,000. If I were an army commander and had the least casualties, I would be a hero, but they had millions of casualties and yet they are the winners. We need some way to control this better.

Another suggestion: issue orders to check which regions signed the final protocol for their territory late. If they did it at 10 pm, it is a good job. While if they signed it between 2 am and 8 am, they made some adjustments. The signing time of the protocol should be evidence of a fair election. At one place, they even submitted it at 5 pm. The protocols should be submitted simultaneously across the country. Let a police officer stand by, a Federal Security Service officer or public prosecutor with a timer.

In addition, following the elections, we would certainly like to preserve the staffing of the faction, the position of Deputy Speaker of the State Duma filled with our party members because it should not be affected by our loss. Unfortunately, material benefits are distributed per deputy, and United Russia will now automatically have everything whereas ours will be reduced. If this could be maintained, I think it advantageous for everyone to increase the number of staff assistants from five to seven. Because this also presents a little problem. The leader of the party’s faction in parliament is absolutely “naked.” The Duma Speaker has 30 advisors. Give us, the four faction leaders, five advisors each. Let us say, a deputy failed to be elected, and he is willing to stay and work.

Overall, I would propose a transition to a three-party system: we have the ruling party, and given the circumstances in Russia, there has to be a ‘vertical’ in legislative bodies and the necessary support for the head of state. During the next decade an over-constitutional majority. 145 seats can go to the other two parties. Figuratively, we have United Russia in the centre, there has to be another, leftist party — why do we have 12 parties? They could meet in the Hall of Columns and have one flag, the flag of the united party of the left social democratic forces. Let them elect their own central committee and a politbureau, and it will be one party. Why are there 12? They argue with each other all the time. Let them always have 70 deputies. Thus, the party of power would have 305 seats, the left social democrats would have 70, and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia would have 75. I think this would work. Fine, let the social democrats have 75 and the Liberal Democratic Party 70. Everything will be clear, and every party will have its block of voters.

I also suggest that we move the elections to the spring, namely to the last Tuesday of April — it is a working day, it is already warm, people are not on holiday yet, it is a weekday, so all get an extra day off. I can assure you that the voter turnout would be about 70–80 percent – higher than in any country. Let us do this.

Gennady Zyuganov: And we could also develop the budget on schedule, without wasting six months…

Vladimir Zhirinovsky: We could easily pass the budget within six months.

The main thing, Mr President — people in this country basically do not work during the summer season. Our summers are short. Let people enjoy themselves in the summer. We could hold elections in April, and people could relax from May until October. Let us make our summers longer.

Gennady Zyuganov: Mr President, no one here has had a vacation in the summer in four years.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky: Perhaps we could move the beginning of the academic year at schools and universities to October 1. Why not? And the academic year could be extended until July 15. All school and university students would have their holidays from July 15 until the end of September. Health and recreation resorts would enjoy the peak season. Russia is a northern country, so why deprive our citizens of their holidays. Why is everyone forced to start their studies and work on September 1? What I proposed could help everyone, and all would still have their holidays. I think we should definitely do this, without delay.

Convene all 12 parties at the Kremlin Palace of Congresses, and keep them there until they adopt a charter and elect their leadership. Have them sit there like the boyars in the old days, when the country was ruled by a prince. The papal election goes on until white smoke comes from the chimney to announce that a new pope has been chosen. And then, there is the ancient Russian custom and the magic number three. Like the Three Warriors deciding where to go at the crossroads – right, left or straight.

Well, straight ahead is the Kremlin. The LDPR is to the right (by 20 percent) and the Social Democrats are to the left by about 30 percent. I believe that if we agree on this in 2017, and use the old Lenin party name and the date the party was founded at the first (Minsk) congress in 1895, it would be a big gift for the 100th anniversary of the February and October revolutions. Let us consider this. Let us not take down Lenin busts but instead put up a bust of the latest Communist leader near it, for example a Zyuganov bust. We have the bronze to do it, right?

Mr President, the biggest request I have is to help us with the international affairs committee. I have never asked for favours before, and we have always accepted others’ proposals and made concessions. The healthcare committee was taken from us – we said all right, it is reasonable for you to have a good doctor on your side. But we have been working to assume leadership of the International Affairs Committee for the past 25 years. Please, find a way to accommodate this request, and you will see that our candidate will be one the committee’s best leaders.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you.

Gennady Zyuganov: Mr President, I would like to express support for Mr Slutsky. I have worked with him in the Council of Europe for 15 years. Everyone in the CIS, and even his opponents, respect his opinions. He is a professional. I do not know about your plans, but Leonid Slutsky has good business qualities and works hard, and he is also respected in Europe. It was he who brought the Italian MEPs to Crimea; they would not have listened to anyone else.

Vladimir Putin: All right, I believe the deputies will consider this when they get together. The LDPR was probably not allowed to head this committee for fear that Mr Zhirinovsky can make statements on the international stage that would create problems with our partners. As for Mr Slutsky, he is a different kind of person; he is more diplomatic. Let the deputies consider his candidacy when addressing this issue.

As for your specific observations, I have noted some of them, like for example the fact that votes are counted through the night, which as you say, might be a matter of concern. At a meeting I had earlier [with members of the Central Election Commission], what did I hear? They even proposed dividing the electoral districts into even smaller units. Why does it take all night to count the votes? Under the law, election commission members have to announce what is written on every ballot, so in the larger electoral district it takes them hours and hours to do it.

This leads to technical violations that show up on the web cameras. Let us think about how to address this issue together, so they can offer proposals and we will review them together. There should be no errors or shortcomings. Of course, there are always at least three paths we can take, like in Viktor Vasnetsov’s famous painting Bogatyrs, but if we mess it up, the people might choose a different path and send us packing. The Russian people really know how to do that. This is why we need to think through and weigh every decision we take. So let us do that together.

Mr Mironov, please.

Sergei Mironov, Leader of A Just Russia Faction in the State Duma: Mr President, A Just Russia party is not satisfied with the results of the elections to the 7th State Duma. Yesterday, the party presidium had its first frank, albeit amicable, discussion on this outcome.

As for the so-called external factors, Mr Zyuganov and Mr Zhirinovsky have spoken about them, so I will not repeat it. We focused on our own shortcomings. My colleagues Alexander Burkov and Valery Gartung, who head two regional branches of the party in the Urals, the Sverdlovsk Region and the Chelyabinsk Region branches, are here today.

We worked for five years and throughout the election cycle, hoping to win 15 to 17 percent of the vote, which I think corresponds to the actual support of A Just Russia party among voters. However, in some regions we received only 6, 5, 4 or even 3 percent, which we believe is attributable to our own deficiencies. We will focus on addressing them moving forward.

As for the question of whether these elections were fair and transparent, let me reiterate what I have already said. I think that this time around the elections were much more fair, transparent and legitimate than five years ago. Unlike five years ago, we do not have any major claims or objections regarding specific regions. Of course, there are some polling stations where we expressed disagreement, including in our home city of St Petersburg.

We have one real problem. With your permission, I will pass on a letter that Valery Gartung wrote to you. I am referring to Single-Seat Constituency No. 191 in Chelyabinsk Region, where Valery Gartung ran. He lost there. However, we are confident that, in fact, he won. We have appealed to Ms Pamfilova and she is sending a commission to recount the votes. What took place there during the last 24 hours, when something was being done to the ballots in the basement for 14 hours, is alarming. We ask that law enforcement agencies intervene.

Now back to the election campaign and the participation of 14 parties in the election campaign. We believe that the current 75 parties are too many. But even the 14 that were actually involved – we see that none of them has made it except the four parliamentary parties that have confirmed their status as parliamentary parties for the third time running. I do not think it is right that a party which, thanks to the law, had a deputy win in the Nenets [Autonomous] Area, where 450 people voted for him, then gets the right to participate in the Duma elections without having to collect signatures, and that this party’s representatives would later, pardon me, denounce Russia and the President of the Russian Federation. Here is our proposal (we have put forward similar proposals in the past): if a party’s deputies are elected to regional parliaments in at least one-third of the constituent entities in the country, then it is a party that has gained voter support in the regions and has the right to participate in the election campaign without collecting signatures.

Thank you for having addressed our colleagues from United Russia. I must say at this point that United Russia’s impressive success is certainly associated with your name and your support. People trust you; you have a very high rating. Your direct address played a role. People can smile; people can take it as they please… Our Mikhail Bryachak was running in Crimea. Observers say, “People came to the polling stations in Crimea and were angry at there being no ballots with Putin’s name on them. They demanded a ballot with Putin’s name. When they were given a different ballot, they said, ‘There is no Putin here, give us a ballot with Putin.’

Returning to your request to retain the proportionate distribution of committees as it was in the Sixth State Duma. There has been a proposal to consider a law on the guarantees of parliamentary activities. We drafted a law of this kind in the past and called it On Guarantees of Parliamentary Activities for Opposition Parties. I think we should remove the words “opposition parties” from the name and call it On Guarantees of Parliamentary Activities.

This law should lay out the rights of the parties and majority factions. The people have made their choice, and so there is a majority party in parliament, but we must not forget about the minority parties. We spoke to people during the election campaign, and offered various draft laws. Our party’s election slogan this time was “25 Fair Laws.” For example, the law on parliamentary activities could have a provision under which each party in parliament would be able to submit five draft laws it considers to be of priority significance, and the State Duma would be required to discuss them.

This does not mean the law will necessarily be passed, but it should be discussed publicly at the State Duma. The experience of the State Duma of the sixth and previous convocations shows that many initiatives were never even submitted for discussion. I believe that this change on parliamentary activities is a good idea.

We have heard your recommendation on choosing Vyacheslav Volodin as Speaker. Our party will consider this proposal. I can say that I will recommend that the party support the nomination of Mr Volodin. We have worked with him for years and know him very well. We are pleased that Mr Naryshkin is returning to his element, to an area that he knows inside out. As my colleagues have said, he was really a perfect State Duma Speaker, even though he represented one of the parties in parliament. I am sure that if the State Duma elects Mr Volodin, he will carry on the best traditions, particularly given his considerable experience in this area.

Mr President, I would like to draw your attention to an issue that has been raised by Gennady Zyuganov and Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Regrettably, many candidates who care for the country and are professionals have not been elected to the State Duma. This is life. However, I do not think they should be left out like this, because they are… For example, Academician Chereshnev chaired the State Duma Committee on Science. Clearly, he cannot go back to the Academy of Sciences now. Meanwhile, if we introduce the position of adviser to faction leader in parliament, we will be able to use the great potential of our colleagues who are top professionals.

I support my colleagues and hope that you will issue an executive order on the start of the new Duma session in early October, because we do not need to wait 30 days to do this. Overall, although many new deputies have been elected to the State Duma, we have maintained the core because professionals have been re-elected. I think we should start working without delay and get down to business in earnest.

In conclusion, I would like to say again that we should resume our discussions of election legislation. I think that absentee voter certificates should be outlawed. Since we have removed the minimum voter turnout requirement, it does not matter if someone cannot come to a polling station on election day. We do not have to bother with this.

I also support the idea of moving the election day to a weekday. We have analysed the situation, and I believe, though this may sound paradoxical, that the turnout was low this September because many people were on vacation or at their dachas, therefore we should move the election day to a weekday in the spring. I think we should consider this issue very thoroughly.

Mr President, if you could give me five minutes after this meeting? There is a matter I need to report on to you personally. Thank you.

Gennady Zyuganov: Mr President, can I say a word?

Vladimir Putin: Of course, go ahead.

Gennady Zyuganov: I would like to support my colleagues. Last time you created a reserve of professionals, based on an initiative launched by Mr Medvedev. Many of them do very good work, as expected. I believe there are about a dozen of them, and they have been working very efficiently.

In this sense, we may sustain major losses in the new Duma. For example, we had an outstanding mathematician in our group, Boris Kashin, one of the best, a member of the Academy of Sciences and a top professional. We had planned to make him responsible for three northern regions, but he lost in the elections. Admiral Komoyedov worked in three fleets and commanded the Black Sea Fleet. He could be of great help on the National Security Council or the Defence Ministry. He has been all over the country, and he is a special and unique man. I fully agree that Valery Chereshnev is a smart man and a great statesman. It is very nice working with him – I know this, as I was on the committee he headed, the Committee on Science and High Technologies. Roman Petrov, Hero of Socialist Labour who headed a major chemical association, Yenissei, and worked in the Federation Council, has been left out, along with four million Kuzbass voters. And Vadim Kumin, one of the most talented professionals in the banking system, was deputy head of the Financial Markets Committee.

Losing these professionals is a shame, in terms of the operation of the parties in parliament, among other things. Creating the positions of, say, five advisers for deputy speakers or heads of parliamentary factions would not cost much, but we will be able to make use of the talents of people who have a wealth of experience and are able to work. One advantage of the previous Duma was that we did not have a single scandal, we knew how to come to an agreement and how to work within party groups, and we created a healthy atmosphere despite our opposing views.

This is also true of the parliamentary factions. For example, ours is composed of 40 people who are responsible for 82 regions. Can we expect one person to work well in two large regions with a population of three or four million each? This is impossible, this person will need two or three paid aides who can help him or her implement national policy in the regions they are responsible for, or else someone will start creating problems there, and there are more grounds for problems now than ever before.

In other words, we should consider this issue very carefully, since expenses will be minor and the effect great, because these are smart, experienced and respected people who are supported by 150,000 to 200,000 voters in each region. Once again, we need to consider this.

Vladimir Putin: Fine, let us do this. Let us consider this issue carefully.

I would like to make a short comment on what Mr Mironov said. A key issue is the number of parties that can take part in the elections. I have heard you complain repeatedly that there are too many of them.

Sergei Mironov: They got our votes, Mr President, without getting enough votes for themselves.

Vladimir Putin: I understand this. However, before, they said there were not enough and that an infinite number of parties taking part in elections is a sign of democracy. Now it turns out there are too many.

When we made that decision and opened the doors to a wide range of political movements, we believed it was for the better. Here is why. It was not done just for the sake of exposing every absurd policy; it was a measure to reveal the current political landscape. This way we could see how many people really did support those who shout the loudest.

Now everything is more or less clear, bar certain issues that executive bodies on all levels from the Central Election Commission to local commissions worked to minimise. These issues remain, however, and Mr Zyuganov, the Central Election Commission, and other parties have spoken about them. But there are far fewer of them than there were in the past, while this election campaign has been far bigger — actually the largest in modern Russian history in terms of the number of candidates and those who organised it.

Let us think how we can ensure both that the principles of democracy are not violated, and that the political system is not damaging itself. It is not an easy question.

Gennady Zyuganov: I am sorry, Mr President, you know Germany very well. They found the answer a long time ago. They have candidates in an electoral district fixed to a particular region. Then, they have a general party list. The general list permits a party to get talented people elected. The district keeps the party grounded in the region, but the party still decides who represents them.

Why did you decide to introduce party lists in 2003? Vodka moguls, mobsters and other characters like that tried to make it to parliament. Then you set up the Civic Chamber. This helped stabilise the situation. But now we see it getting out of hand. The false Communist party stole 1.2 million of our votes. People were simply duped into voting for them because even their logo looks like ours.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, I can see that. You are right, there is no doubt here. However, to reiterate, we did this, widely opening the way for removing the seething froth that was trying to prove that hundreds of millions of people were following the loudmouths. These hundreds or dozens of millions are fiction. This became obvious. It also became obvious that there is a problem with this system as such, which is consuming itself from within.

You have just noted one of these negative elements: several Communist parties; it is not clear who stands behind whom or whom they represent. In fact, the same goes for the others. These are the kinds of mechanisms that are used and they are also used against the so-called party of power: double names, whatever. Anything can be used.

Since the lineup of political forces has become clear, this makes it possible for us to talk about optimisation now. However, again, these should be steps that do not erode the essence of democracy as an expression of the people’s will. Let us think carefully and analyse the experience of the European countries, as well as the experience of countries on other continents.

For example, the United States. There are no restrictions, but there are always two parties on the arena all the same. Why does this happen? There are no limitations, but except for the two parties, we see nothing on the political Olympus. After the notorious McCarthyism period, the leftist movement was eliminated there.

Let us consider this carefully. However, all of these discussions should be public. People should know what the authors of particular ideas are guided by and what the consequences might be. We should listen to our opponents and then make some decisions openly and transparently.

Now regarding the organisation of the State Duma’s work. I have already said that I consider it expedient for the leading political forces to retain the positions that they had in the Sixth State Duma.

In respect to retaining the personnel potential, I also agree in that we should think whether it is a good idea to lose well-educated, efficient people, who enjoy public respect, especially in the regions. Let us do this but not at excessive cost, including budget spending. We should try to minimise spending but retain some people. Let us find this balance.

Finally, I would like to conclude our present meeting – it is not our last one, of course – by making two points.

First, I would like to ask you to start working no later than October 5. Let us agree about that. This is my first point.

Second, an important matter that I mentioned at the beginning of our meeting. I would like to ask you to pay special attention to the budget.

This work is not going smoothly. Mr Zyuganov already said that there are certain limitations there connected to well-known difficulties. We are dealing with them. We are confidently pressing ahead in overcoming these difficulties. It may be recalled that last year, for example, such a key parameter as inflation was 12.9 percent, while this year it will be 5.7 percent. At first, it was set at 5.9 percent, but now it is already 5.7 percent.

We have a positive trade balance, on the one hand, and on the other, our reserves, the Government’s reserves and the gold and currency reserves of the Central Bank – this ratio is among the best in the world. We are in the top 10 countries with such a favourable ratio. It is very important because, on the one hand, we have sufficient reserves and on the other, a trade surplus. These are very important indicators of the state of the economy.

For the first time, industrial production indicators have increased. They are still insignificant, but this trend has continued for months now. All of these positive trends should be maintained. Needless to say, this will be connected to the budgetary process. We cannot afford – like a grain-sower – to generously throw around state budget resources over non-priority sectors.

The following are extremely important: the social sphere, pensions, medical care, education, healthcare and defence. You know, yesterday once again, for the 10th time, we closely looked at security and defence. We are trying to arrive at figures that are in line with common sense, of course, to ensure the fulfillment of the tasks that we face but so as not to undermine other budget articles. This is the yardstick we have been trying to apply from year to year. I would like to ask you to take a very responsible approach towards this year’s budget.

Thank you. Until we meet again.

Gennady Zyuganov: May I issue an invitation? On September 29, the 15th group of children from Donbass will arrive. At the time, you supported Mr Medvedev and received 1,500 children. Iosif Kobzon and I worked on the project then. I would like to invite you all to a gala concert. And there is an expression of gratitude to you from all the Donbass families: 1,500 children took a rehabilitation course at Snegiri, went to Crimea and are very pleased.

Vladimir Putin: Very well. Thank you.

September 23, 2016, The Kremlin, Moscow