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Upper house election in March unviable - commission chief -1

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MOSCOW, December 4 (RIA Novosti) - It is not possible to hold direct elections for the upper house of Russia's parliament in March 2007, the head of the Central Elections Commission said Monday.

The ruling United Russia party, which dominates the State Duma (the lower house), proposed passing an expedited law introducing general elections to the Federation Council and electing house members as early as March 2007.

"It is unrealistic for the proposed law to start working in March [elections]," Alexander Veshnyakov said. "It has first to pass through three readings, be approved by the Federation Council and signed by the president, whereas the election is due in three months."

Under the current procedure, Federation Council members are appointed by regional governors and legislatures.

Sergei Shoigu, the emergency situations minister and a co-leader of the Kremlin-backed United Russia party, made the move in response to Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov's accusations that Duma members are dragging their feet on a proposal to make the formation of the upper house a more democratic process.

But on Monday, Mironov said elections to the upper house will not begin in March, as he had not sent the relevant bill to the State Duma yet.

"All of United Russia's plans for March are absolutely unrealistic," he said, adding that senators were still working on the document and assessing whether it complies with the Constitution.

The popular Russian daily Kommersant suggested Monday the "party of power" might be seeking to challenge Mironov, who heads a new political party that announced plans to defeat United Russia in parliamentary elections next year, by nominating a strong candidate in elections to the Federation Council.

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