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RF reshuffles governors before gubernatorial election law enacted

May 18, 2012, 16:14 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

The reshuffles of governors in Russian regions and the appointments of new governors are becoming sweeping before the comeback to direct gubernatorial elections, which are one of the foundations in a liberal political reform, which Russian ex-President Dmitry Medvedev launched.

Wishing to secure themselves from any surprises, the Kremlin has made the gubernatorial elections not quite direct. The Russian authorities envisaged for gubernatorial candidates the so-called presidential filter in the way of preliminary consultations and the municipal filter in the way of a signup campaign to get some support among municipal deputies. Before June 1, 2012, the day when the law on gubernatorial elections is to enter into force, the federal authorities are seeking all the same to replace most heads of the regions, the terms of which will expire this or next year. The Russian Central Elections Commission stated that gubernatorial elections will be held only in four Russian federal constituents, namely the Amur, Bryansk, Veliky Novgorod and Belgorod regions, this year.

On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed Governor of the Irkutsk Region Dmitry Mezentsev, who turned out to be involved in several scandals recently. Mezentsev became the 21st governor, who was dismissed this year. Eighteen governors were reshuffled, three governors were reappointed.

Karelia Governor Andrei Nelidov may be the next governor to be dismissed, the Vedomosti daily reported with the reference to some sources in the United Russia Party.

The experts noted that the chief executives in those regions, where the ruling party United Russia failed to gain an expected high result at the parliamentary elections on December 4, 2011 or where Vladimir Putin did not get a high percentage of votes at the presidential elections on March 4, 2012, were dismissed. For instance, Ilya Mikhalchuk and the Arkhangelsk Region under his governorship brought only 31.90% of votes to United Russia, Anatoly Brovko (the Volgograd Region) – 36.2% of votes, Sergei Darkin (the Primorye Territory) – 33.43%, Viktor Kress (the Tomsk Region) – 37.5%, Boris Gromov (the Moscow Region) – 32.5% of votes.

Blatantly weak governors, those who have some conflicts at the federal level, those who had their term of office about to expire, those who failed to establish cooperation with the local elites were fired. In general, those who could bring some problems to Moscow at gubernatorial elections, were dismissed.

“There were two main principles. First of all, those governors, who did not provide for a high result to United Russia and Vladimir Putin, were dismissed. Some governors, who could be replaced just in case, were fired as well,” the Moskovsky Komsomolets daily quoted political expert Yevgeny Minchenko as saying. “If at first those governors, who had a very low “rating of survival” at their posts, were dismissed, those heads of the regions with a moderate and even good rating are dismissed now,” he said.

So, regional governors will be reshuffled substantially by June 1. The experts noted political risks, which such haste is fraught with.

The current hastiness of the authorities is behind a thoughtless and hasty introduction of gubernatorial elections, President of the Efficient Politics Foundation Gleb Pavlovsky believes. “The law was approved without any debates at all, without any debates over electoral concepts, as a gift from outgoing [president] Medvedev. The Kremlin finds something dangerous inside this gift, so the authorities are seeking to ‘demine’ it,” the Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily quoted Pavlovsky as saying.

It is mistakenly to assume that the system of filters can be a solution to the problem for the Kremlin, the political expert believes. The problems are in possible ways to control an incumbent governor, who will stick at nothing, because he has a puppet press, a puppet Legislative Assembly and puppet courts, and the United Russia Party getting weaker now already hardly supervises its own factions in regional legislatures.

In general, the elections of governors are useful, because these elections encourage competition after all, economic expert Yevgeny Gavrilenkov believes.

President of the Public Opinion Foundation Alexander Oslon has a mixed attitude to gubernatorial elections. “On the one hand, there are the principles of replaceability, the principles of democracy and the principles of representativeness. On the other hand, there are the principles of efficiency. There are some risks of outsiders to take the posts of governors, there are also some risks of failures and so on and so forth,” he said.

As for the first direct gubernatorial elections in October 2012, the experts believe these elections will be just facade. “Most probably, a greater part of real rivals of incumbent governors will be barred from the elections at the stage of a signup campaign to gain some support among municipal deputies,” Minchenko believes. “The most probable scenario is the rivalry between incumbent governors and predicted losers of the elections. Some surprises are possible all the same if the rivals have some solid financial resources. Meanwhile, the elections are held in those regions, which are not quite attractive in financial terms,” he noted.

The Kremlin seems now not to have any problems in any of four regions in October, the Moskovsky Komsomolets daily quoted expert for regional politics Alexander Kynev as saying. However, the situation may change drastically this autumn. “The practice shows that the controllability of the region can be lost very quickly just in a few months,” he said. So, no matter how the federal authorities want to secure themselves from any regional surprises “something will give a leak somewhere.”

The law, which brings back direct gubernatorial elections that were abolished during Vladimir Putin’s first term of presidency, made part of a political reform, which Dmitry Medvedev declared at the end of the previous year, right after the first massive civil protest actions. The decision, which the opposition forces took initially with satisfaction, during the drafting of the bill came under a shower of criticism as long as new conditions for running in the gubernatorial elections were introduced.

MOSCOW, May 18