On February 15, the State Duma rejected a legislative amendment which would have given the Russian president the power to appoint regional governors. The change was proposed by Vitaly Lednik, a member of the pro-Putin Unity faction in the Duma (Russian agencies, February 15; see also the Monitor, February 14).
The result of the voting came as little surprise, because Lednik’s initiative had aroused very negative reactions among regional leaders. Ingushetian President Ruslan Aushev called it “a gross violation of the constitution,” while Tyumen Governor Sergei Sobyanin declared that “the very future of federalism in the Russian Federation” was at stake (Segodnya, February 12). Samara Governor Konstantin Titov, who ran against Vladimir Putin in last year’s presidential election, said that a return to elected governors would be “a step backwards” and contradict the principles of democracy and genuine federalism (Polit.ru, February 14). The speaker of the upper house of parliament, Yegor Stroev, also denounced the initiative, noting that, “according to the constitution, the right to form the organs of power in the regions belongs to the regions themselves” (Russian, February 13).
A majority of the State Duma deputies shared this view. Only thirty-two voted for Lednik’s proposal; 242 voted against (Russian agencies, February 15). This does not mean, however, that regional leaders will now be left in peace. Many proposals are being made to reform the electoral system. At the same time Lednik made his proposal, the Duma passed in the first reading a bill which would mandate two rounds of gubernatorial elections if neither candidate for governor won more than 50 percent of the vote in the first round. In such an event, the two candidates with the highest number of votes would meet in a runoff. The author of this proposal, Yabloko’s Sergei Mitrokhin, said his aim was to restrict “the advantages of incumbency” currently enjoyed by sitting governors (Polit.ru, February 15). Aleksandr Veshnyakov, head of the Central Election Commission, announced that the commission had prepared legislation banning governors who stepped down early from running for office again in the subsequent pre-term election. Several governors have already employed this ruse in the hope of being able to steal a march on the opposition (Russian agencies, February 14).
There is also talk of overturning the results of victories the governors have already won. State Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznev said on February 13 that the lower house had come out in support of an initiative by Boris Nadezhdin, a member of the Union of Right-Wing Forces, to amend recently adopted legislation allowing governors to run for third terms (Russian agencies, February 14). The Duma’s committee on federation affairs and regional policy has urged the adoption of an amendment according to which the only governors allowed to stand for a third term would be those in whose regions a third term does not contradict local laws. There are only seven such regions, and in four of them the leaders have secured the right to run for a third term in office. They include Tatarstan’s President Mintimer Shaimiev, Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, Novgorod Oblast Governor Mikhail Prusak and Komi Republic President Yury Spiridonov (Vremya Novostei, February 14). Finally, some observers argue that Lednik’s initiative was not decisively defeated. They believed that the Duma might yet return to the issue of ending elections for regional heads, but in a “new edition.”
The new edition in question has been put forward by Saratov Oblast Governor Dmitry Ayatskov. He told journalists on February 14 that, in his opinion, the head of state should put forward a candidate for the post of governor, and the candidacy should then be considered by the local legislative assembly. The regional parliament would have the right to confirm the governor for a term of five years. If the governor turned out not to be up to the task, the deputies would have the right to ask the president to withdraw the offending governor (Polit.ru, Segodnya, February 15). Clearly, the initiatives described above are not coming from the Kremlin (though most of them are the product of their authors’ idea about what the Kremlin team might want). It looks as if the Kremlin is at a loss to know what further to do with the regions and would prefer to take a time-out to assess what has been achieved and to develop new tactics.
The fate of the amendments to the law “On organizing the legislative and executive organs of state power of the components of the Russian Federation” is instructive. These amendments will allow a majority of regional leaders to run for third terms. Putin’s refusal to sign these amendments into law would have been a blow to the regional elites, since it would have denied many regional leaders the right to run for a third term and would, therefore, have removed them from the scene. Instead, Putin calmly signed the bill into law (Russian agencies, February 13). By all appearances, the war that began in May of last year between the Kremlin and the Kremlin has ended in a draw.
MOSCOW’S CASPIAN CLAIM BUILT ON SHIFTING SANDS.