Pro-Kremlin parliamentarians are pushing a plan to give the president the power to appoint governors in politically divided regions–that is, in most of the country. The plan would jigger election laws to require governors to win a majority of registered voters in their regions. That’s a high hill to climb, especially with Russia’s generally low election turnouts. An election that fails to produce a winner could be repeated once, but after a second no-decision there could be no new balloting for at least two years, and the president would name the governor by decree.
A supporter of the plan says only six of the current crop of governors were elected by half their registered voters. The new rules, says Duma Deputy Aleksandr Bespalov, will prompt bigger turnouts and get more citizens involved. But most observers think apathy is here to stay. The new rules, they say, would roll the clock back to the early 1990s, when all governors were presidentially appointed.
President Putin has taken no position on the plan, and its authors, who are leaders of the centrist Unity coalition, have come under heavy pressure from regional leaders to give it up. The plan probably cannot pass the Duma in its present form, and the Federation Council, whose members are chosen by governors and regional legislatures, would almost surely block it. But Putin’s desire to strengthen federal control in the regions is well established. This proposed electoral fiddle may come back re-tuned to a softer key.