Russia is inundated by a surge of new political parties. Observers doubt that the boom is a result of true liberalization in the Kremlin: more parties do not necessarily mean more democracy.
The procedure for registering political parties was simplified last year under President Dmitry Medvedev. That's led to a boom in the number of political parties in Russia.
According to a list published on the website of the Russian justice ministry, 195 political parties have submitted applications for state registration. The ministry notes that 58 have passed the first step in the application process and 34 have already been granted the right to participate in elections.
The new legislation went into effect in April 2012. The application process is two-tier: first, a party registers with the justice ministry. Within six months, it must register at least 42 regional groups with local authorities in order to take part in elections. Proof of these registrations must be passed on to federal authorities within a month if the party does not want to lose its approval.
Who needs dozens of parties?
Some observers are in favor of a multitude of political parties in Russia. "We have so few liberties," Vladimir Pribylovsky, head of the Panorama independent information and research center told DW. "We should at least have the freedom to form parties."
However, too much diversity has its disadvantages. The Kremlin could easily be behind many of the smaller parties, Pribylovsky said, and pointed out that the emergence of a host of pseudo-opposition parties would weaken actual opposition in the country.
Andrei Busin of Golos, a Russian organization to protect the rights of voters, is convinced many small new parties are "artificially-created structures" designed to take votes away from the real opposition to the main government party United Russia. As a result, Busin told Deutsche Welle, most of the small parties will not manage to win the five percent of the vote needed to enter parliament. He also fears voters will be overwhelmed by the sheer number of political parties suddenly available. Busin is critical of the fact that, where a party previously had to have 40,000 members, the new law stipulates a minimum of 500 members. That amendment enabled the multitude of parties in the first place, he said.
No approval for Pirates of Russia
Some party projects, like Smart Russia, openly support the Kremlin. The justice ministry recognized the party, which is headed by Nikita Borovikov, a former leading member of the pro-Kremlin Nashi youth organization, in record time. After 19 days, the party presented documents from the required 42 regions in Russia - and received approval to participate in elections.
The Pirate Party of Russia suffered quite a different fate.
The first attempt to register failed, according to party leader Pavel Rassudov, because the justice ministry decided that "piracy is a crime and does not comply with the party's declared goals." The Pirate Party immediately filed a lawsuit, Rassudov told DW - the case is scheduled to go to court in April.
Observers conclude the Kremlin still has control over the political landscape in the country despite the party law reform. Pavel Rassudov believes the current boom in political parties is a mere imitation of democracy. The amended legislation will be put to its first test in regional elections in September 2013 and elections for the Moscow City Council in 2014.