Movement for Defence of Voters' Rights "Golos" RU EN
Карта сайта Регионы Сервисы RU

Rosbalt: elimination of ‘weak link’

According to all forecasts, the 2014 major political event in Russian province supposed to be the reintroduction of Gubernatorial Elections. However, the prediction failed to come true: the elections were held, but it did not cause a stir. The reintroduction of Gubernatorial Elections turned out to be a ‘compensation’ to the abolition of direct election for mayors. It was the major political reversal of the year.

The ‘reintroduced’ Gubernatorial Elections were held on September 14 in some regions without any significant revival attributes. Everywhere the candidates representing ruling party won the elections. However, no one should have expected something else: the federal government still keeps an eye on the regions. If a head of region fails to implement the assigned duties, the stronger control is introduced: so that within a year the governors of Chelyabinsk, Bryansk and Novosibirsk regions were suspended. They were replaced by appointed ‘acting officials’. The new regional heads elected in the following elections already had no prefix ‘acting’. Thus it became obvious that the Gubernatorial Elections is no more than a formality, when a candidacy of ‘Kremlin puppet’ is legitimized. Three oil-producing regions – Nenets, Yamal-Nenets and Khanty-Mansi autonomous districts – fully abolished the direct Gubernatorial Elections, resuming the concept of heads’ appointment by regional parliaments.

The election for mayors turn out to be more diverse. In 2014 Mayor Elections, Novosibirsk has elected the Communist Party candidate Anatoly Lokot, moreover a little bit earlier, in 2013, Yevgeny Roizman was elected as the head of Yekaterinburg. The Election results in these major cities were like a big disappointment to ‘United Russia’.

Within the year of local government reform, the Mayor Elections were abolished almost in all regions of Russia. Instead, the post of head of administration – city manager was introduced, who is mostly appointed by the commission composed of deputies and representatives of the regional administration. In addition to city manager, the other position as the head of city is introduced, which is usually taken by the chairman of the city duma.

It would seem that the abolition of direct election should be welcomed by those who oppose the authoritarian power, the local ‘princes’. The appointed city manager will be officially accountable to city councils. However, no coincidence is that the city manager candidacy shall be approved by the deputies elected by popular vote as well as by the representatives of regional authorities. Thus the city manager is nothing more than a governor’s puppet, regardless of the deputies’ opinions.

‘Unfortunately, we often semi-consciously elect representative bodies. We have no effective control mechanisms and very often voters do not even know who they have voted for, which MP represents his/her interests, what is the composition of representative body. Due to the fact that we have no representative body accountability mechanism, lack of democracy, transparency, competition, therefore in such a context the abolition of direct elections is rather negative’ – believes the docent of academic department of political science and sociology at Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University Vyacheslav Dichanov.

The ruling party means that the Yekaterinburg and Novosibirsk exemptions shall not become the rule; this opinion is shared by almost all political commentators, both the left and the right. Therefore, the opposition to abolition of direct election invoked new bizarre protest alliances. Only ‘UR’ voted in support of abolition of direct election, all the other parties were against it.

According to the deputy of Yaroslavl Oblast Duma Boris Nemtsov, the abolition of direct election for mayors not accidently was imposed just prior to the economic crisis. He told to the ‘Rosbalt’ correspondent, that the government wants in advance to cope with potential opponents.

‘Prior to the crisis the authorities insanely are afraid of opposition running for the election. Therefore, Kremlin has ordered to abolish mayor elections across the country. Currently 66 regions of Russia have done it. In fact, the federal government is trying to pull down regional politicians, as well as municipal ones. Everything is done to purge of the prominent personalities of the city, who would represent an alternative to the regime’, – says Boris Nemtsov.

According to the campaign manager Aleksei Kungurov, the ruling party intends to eliminate the ‘weak link’ of the political system. ‘United Russia’ was often defeated in Mayor Elections.

‘Even in those regions where ‘United Russia’ gains the most convincing victory in parliamentary elections, sometimes it turns out that the party’s power has no effect. For example, in 2010 Municipal Elections in Sverdlovsk region, other than ‘UR’ candidates won the elections and the ruling party was defeated there’ – recalled Kungurov.

According to the campaign manager, the appointment of city manager, unlike the mayor elections, is a procedure that is under absolute control of the government.

In some regions, the opponents of direct elections abolition tried to initiate national protests: street actions, as well as referendums. In Astrakhan, the protest was led by the former candidate to mayor post, the head of the faction ‘Just Russia’ of regional parliament Oleg Shein. He announced his intention to collect signatures for holding a referendum. ‘The abolition of direct election for Astrakhan mayor actually discloses the intention to maintain the system of embezzlement and disclose the lack of actual city governance’, – said Shein in an open letter to the President of the Russian Federation.

A similar way of resistance was chosen by the representatives of ‘Communists of Russia’ in the Krasnodar region. Krasnodar city duma has discussed the question of holding a referendum on the elections. The duma rejected it.

‘The city duma which rejected the local referendum initiative undermined political stability in the Krasnodar city. It can be considered as usurpation of powers. Thus, our party is going to appeal the city council decision to the prosecutor’s office’, – commented the situation the head of referendum initiative group, the municipal deputy Dmitry Peczynski.

Most voters do not think consider anymore that some important issues can be solved by local elections. The low turnout disclose this. In this respect, even the voters expressed their disagreement with the abolition of direct elections while they were questioned in the polls, they ignored the protests in most of the cities. The opposition did not manage to expose its most prominent representatives and had no opportunity to explain to the people the importance of preserving the election for mayors.

It means that the intensity of the political competition now will be transferred to the Elections to representative bodies.

Dmitry Remizov

The Source: Rosbalt,