From: Miroslav Kolar <> Date: April 20, 2013    

Citizen's initiatives introduced in Russia

The site Российская общественная инициатива (Russian Citizen's Initiatives),, was launched on April 2, 2013 by a Russian NGO called "Fund for Information Democracy". It was working in a test regime till April 15, but the citizens have been able to submit their proposals (initiatives) from the very beginning. Today (April 20), there are already 484 initiatives open to voting.

The site does not get any funding from the government. It's initial development was funded personally by the NGO's founder and president Ilya Massukh, and to fund its continuing operation they now accept donations from Russian companies and presumably also from individuals (but no foreign funds).
Nevertheless, this project has been incorporated into the Russian legislative system by a presidential decree of March 3, 2013. This decree requires that the initiatives which satisfy the 2004 law "On referendum in the Russian Federation" have to be acted upon by a legislature body of the respective administrative entity if within one year from their submission they get at least:

For federal initiatives: 100,000 votes;
For regional initiatives: 100,000 votes or votes from 5% of the
            entity's population, whichever is less;
For municipal initiatives: votes from 5% of the municipal population.

If an initiative did not achieve this minimal level of support, it cannot be submitted again during the next year. One can vote also against an initiative, but the number of negative votes has no effect on its fate. E.g. on the federal level, even if it gets 2 million votes against, it must be considered as long as it also got at least 100,000 votes for. (There is already an initiative, that got 89 votes so far, asking this to be changed: that only initiatives with the number of negative votes not exceeding 1/2 the number of positive votes be passed to the respective legislature).

The system is very good in that it makes sure that every Russian citizen of voting age (18+ years) has exactly one vote, and no foreigners can cast votes. To submit or vote on an initiative, one has to be registered with the portal of Russian governmental services (e-government) where one's identity is verified by a unique pension number (social security number). The only way to cheat would be to be able to get more than one pension number which is considered to be impossible. There are already almost 4 millions of Russian citizens registered with this portal doing their interaction with the federal and municipal governments (payments, permits, document renewal, ...) electronically. (The total population of the Russian federation is about 143.5 million.)

Not all submitted initiatives are opened for voting. They are at first examined by the legal team of the "Fund for Information Democracy" to verify that they satisfy the requirements of the above mentioned Referendum law. E.g., initiatives asking for the change of the length of office term of the President or the Duma (Parliament) are not allowed. Such inadmissible initiatives, and also all the initiatives that duplicate previously submitted initiatives, are stored in an archive at

Among the archived inadmissible initiatives one can find e.g. the initiative to impeach president Putin, to shorten his term of office, to dissolve parliament and hold new elections, an initiative called "If we collect 50,000 signatures, Russian president will have to perform the Harlem Shake dance", but also a call to reintroduce death penalty (as it is deemed to be against generally accepted principles and international norms).

On the other hand, e.g. the initiative to abolish a 2001 law granting the Russian president a life-long immunity (including for the activity after leaving presidential office), or the initiative to also allow voting on all the above mentioned inadmissible initiatives are open to voting.

I have learnt about this project about 2 weeks ago from an interview with its initiator Ilya Massukh on the opposition's radio station Echo Moskvy (Moscow). The show host welcomed it as a positive development, and thought that the opposition will definitely use the initiative site. Ilya Massukh said that before issuing the March 3 decree, president Putin checked with him whether he and his Fund were really willing to set up the site and run it. And they managed to do it ahead of the promised date.

It seems to be a much better thought out project than e.g. the Obama administration's "We the people" (WTP) petition site. WTP does not check whether the voters are US citizens (I could vote there), whether they vote only once, and was meant as a public outreach vehicle to explain government position in the responses to the successful petitions. The fact that WTP petitions are not taken seriously by the government may explain a large proportion of frivolous petitions that are being submitted to WTP.

It remains to be seen how serious the reaction of the Russian Duma will be when the first of their federal initiatives pass the 100,000 threshold (it is mandated to act on it, but how exactly does not seem to be defined). This may happen in a few short months as the leading initiative (forbidding the officers and workers of any company with government or municipal participation to buy/use company cars costing more than $45,000) already collected 26,264 votes.
The second leading one (13,583 votes) asks to allow again a small maximum alcohol level (1-3 promille) in drivers' blood (currently 0, which leads to too many lawsuits disputing instrument accuracy). The 5th one (9,274 votes) wants to forbid all governmental and municipal officials to request photocopies of any documents from the citizens, and the 6th one (8,496 votes) wants to take away the rights for priority travel with blinking lights on the roads to everybody who currently hold them (i.e., mainly government officials) except for the emergency services (first-aid, police, firefighters).

Ilya Massukh claimed in the interview that especially the municipal officials
are happy with his project, and eager to get some input from citizens on what they need. So far however of the total of 484 open-for-voting initiatives there are only 14 municipal ones which attracted only a handful of votes (at most 131), and 38 regional ones (with at most 239 votes). So people concentrate their attention to the federation-wide problems. But we are still not even three weeks from the launch of the site, and it may take time before the knowledge about this initiative site spreads.