The possibility of ending the direct election of the heads of Russia’s regions is back on the agenda. Vitaly Lednik, who represents the pro-Kremlin Unity party in the State Duma, has drafted a legislative amendment which would give the Russian president the power to appoint regional governors. Nowhere in the constitution, Lednik points out, does it say that governors must stand for election. When governors are elected by popular vote, he argues, they lose their links with the center. Besides, he adds, in what looks suspiciously like a Freudian slip, elections have never been a Russian tradition. “The Tsar,” Lednik has pointed out, “appointed governors-general” (Segodnya, February 9).
Lednik’s comment conforms to the logic of the power struggle underway since last year between President Vladimir Putin and Russia’s self-willed governors. The first stage of this struggle–the series of gubernatorial elections late last year, when many of the incumbents were to have been replaced by pro-Kremlin candidates–did not give a decisive victory to either side. Since then, the president was forced both to retreat and to sanction the lifting of term limits. Now republic presidents and even oblast governors will be able to run for election to a third or even a fourth consecutive term.
The idea of giving Putin Tsar-like powers is therefore timely. But the majority of Russia’s governors have absolutely no intention of allowing their posts to become appointed ones. Just before Lednik made his comments, Konstantin Titov, the influential governor of Samara, spoke out against the idea of appointing regional heads. In a democratic society, Titov declared, such a policy would be a step backward. Titov said governors should be elected in order to avoid a “weak shoulder of the strict vertical” (Volzhskaya Kommuna [Samara], February 6). Lednik’s legislative initiative will certainly face opposition when it comes to the upper house of the Russian parliament, and he and his fellow Unity will have to work hard to gather enough votes if the Duma is to overcome the inevitable veto of the Federation Council.
At the same time, it appears that the governors are increasingly unhappy about their war with the center, and might prefer to reach an agreement. Because the center would also like to cut a deal, the conditions for a “peace agreement” may be taking shape. Late last month, Saratov Governor Dmitry Ayatskov called for the dropping of term limits on the Russian president (Russian agencies, January 29). On the heels of Ayatskov’s demarche, Sergei Sobyanin, who was recently elected head of Tyumen Oblast with Kremlin support, called for the presidential term to be lengthened from four to seven years (Polit.ru, February 7). This may prove to be the price the governors have to pay to be left in peace.
REVOLT IN SARATOV OBLAST.