In Soviet times, the “organs of power” were the Politburo and the Central Committee of the Communist Party. Now, they are President Boris Yeltsin’s heart, stomach and liver. The last failed him over the weekend and put him yet again in the hospital.

President Yeltsin’s feebleness obscures that on paper few presidents in the world are as powerful as Russia’s. He can fire the government, dismiss the parliament and rule by decree. Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, who seems despite demurrals to have his eyes on the prize, wants the president to control Russia’s eighty-nine regional governments as well.

Primakov told a meeting of governors from Russia’s northwestern regions that direct gubernatorial elections undermine presidential authority. Russia needs “a rigid vertical system authority” with “a solid line, not a dotted line” between the center and the provinces. So “local elective bodies should elect governors from among candidates proposed by the president.” Gubernatorial resignations, he added, “should be based on the same scheme.”

Many political figures on the left and the right have tried to curb regional power since elected governors replaced presidential appointees in 1996-1998. But Primakov is the first to call for abandoning elections.