Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 132

Last week’s debate in the State Duma has been described as “a fresh episode in the comic opera about third gubernatorial terms” (Polit.ru, July 3). On July 4, the Duma voted to amend federal legislation on electing regional governors so as to reduce from sixty-nine to ten the number of governors who will have the right to run for more than two terms (Russian agencies, July 4). Originally, the law ruled out such a right altogether. Earlier this year, however, the Duma relaxed the restriction and gave governors the right to write off one or even two of the terms they had already served.

Then, Boris Nadezhdin–a member of the Duma from the Union of Right-Wing Forces (SPS)–introduced his so-called Nadezhdin amendment. In its original form, the number of governors who were to get the right to run for more than two terms was set at no more than nine. During the course of the debate, that number went up to ten. The final list consists only of the heads of those regions in which local legislation did not restrict their governors to two terms when the federal law on electing governors was first adopted. The mayor of Moscow and the governors of Tver, Sakhalin and Astrakhan Oblasts all got the right to run for third terms. The presidents of Tatarstan, Kabardino-Balkaria, Kalmykia and Komi and the governors of Leningrad and Novgorod Oblasts won the right to run for fourth terms (NNS.ru, July 4).

The “Nadezhdin amendment” should be ratified by the Federation Council and signed by President Vladimir Putin before it can become law. However, it may not go that route. According to Deputy Speaker Irina Khakamada, one of the SPS leaders, there is no likelihood that the Council will pass the amendment. If the upper chamber uses its veto, Khakamada says, the Duma will be unable to muster the 300 votes required to override it (Radio Ekho Moskvy, July 4).

Commentators noted that the pro-Putin Unity faction had shifted its position on the amendment. Originally, Unity deputies supported the proposal. During the debate, however, they moved against it. Observers asserted that Unity would not have changed its position without Putin’s agreement, but wondered why the Kremlin had not told its deputies to block the amendment entirely. The answer seems to be that the Kremlin is content to have a weapon with which to threaten the governors, some of whom will be facing election for a third term later this year (Izvestia, July 5).

Commentators agree, too, that the Duma will for now not be able to overcome a Federation Council veto. “It is entirely possible that the current accord between the Kremlin and the governors could be replaced by another cooling of relations. In that case, Nadezhdin’s amendment, stored in the Duma’s arsenal, could come in handy for the president,” wrote one newspaper. “The Kremlin need only tip the wink to its Duma allies, and the upper chamber’s veto would be overridden with votes to spare” (Kommersant, July 5). According to another view, the law will eventually come up for discussion again, at which point it will be used to “buy off” the regions (Vek, July 6). Whatever the case, one of the Kremlin’s most effective attacks on the governors has run out of steam. Only their own domestic problems can now prevent the incumbent governors from winning third terms.