Russia's lower house of parliament Friday voted to adopt a law meant to make registration of new political parties easier in a response to massive winter rallies that demanded political change.
Under the draft law, the minimum number of members required for registration of a party decreases from 40,000 to 500.
The law now needs to be passed by the Federation Council upper house and then to be signed into law by the president.
After last December's fraud-tainted parliamentary elections, the Russian government faced an unprecedented public outlash at the current electoral system, which the opposition views as neither fair nor representative.
President Dmitry Medvedev promised political reform after tens of thousands of people demonstrated in Moscow, first by making it easier to create political parties, then by bringing back elections for regional governors.
But the draft law has faced criticism from the opposition, with the head of the liberal Yabloko party, Sergei Mitrokhin, complaining it does not allow smaller parties to unite into blocs to run in elections.
Dozens of parties risk falling under the threshold of five percent of votes required for a party to take up a seat in the Duma lower house, meaning that larger parties are effectively "stealing their votes," he said Friday.
Another opposition movement Parnas, which had struggled unsuccessfully since last year to be registered, said last week it was stopping negotiations with the Kremlin and did not believe in any of the proposed reforms.