Environmental national vote banned

Publish date: November 29, 2000

Written by: Igor Kudrik

Russian authorities taken by surprise when evirogroups collected more than two million signatures to initiate an environmental national vote attempt to turn this initiative down.

The head of the Russia’s Central Electoral Committee, Aleksandr Veshnyakov, said Wednesday the national vote on environmental questions could not be commenced, as 127,000 more signatures were required. Russian envirogroups intend to appeal this decision to court.

Russian environmental groups collected around 2.5 million signatures in support of a national referendum to restore state environmental agencies and to ban nuclear waste/materials import into the country.

Russian President Vladimir Putin disbanded Federal Environmental Protection Committee in spring this year. While Russian Ministry for Nuclear Energy, or Minatom, has been lobbying heavily in the State Duma, lower house of the Russian parliament, amendments to the national legislation in favour of spent nuclear fuel imports.

The signatures were delivered to the local electoral committees by October 25th. They were then to be passed over to the Central Electoral Committee for final verification. The Committee chose to ban the referendum.

In consent with the Russian legislation, two million signatures collected in 60 various regions are enough to initiate a national vote.

Russian officials have taken a negative stance towards this spontaneous initiative, which they had no control over, from the very beginning. The Russian prime minister, Mikhail Kasyanov, said earlier that ordinary people cannot take decisions which require technical expertise, meaning the spent nuclear fuel import project. Kasyanov’s understanding of the project stems in turn from the study submitted by Minatom, which promises bright financial prospects should Russia start taking in foreign nuclear waste. Minatom has his own commercial interests in the project and has been the driving force for the national vote opponents. The ministry even launched an NGO for this purpose. The NGO named Ecological Forum comprises various officials and is aimed at “fighting the greens”.

The decision of the Central Electoral Committee was expected. The envirogroups have already started preparations to take this decision to court and prove that more than two million signatures were in fact collected.

Should the Central Electoral Committee be forced by court to accept the signatures, the President has to either set a date for the vote or to ask the Constitutional Court to evaluate whether the vote questions are in consent with the legislation. Most likely President Putin will make the latter move. Unofficial sources say that the Kremlin disliked the uncontrolled initiative of the greens.