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Most Russian regions refuse to hold direct elections of city mayors

December 19, 2014, 16:07 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila
© ITAR-TASS/Aertyom Geodakyan

MOSCOW, December 19. /TASS/. The first phase of the reform of local self-government in Russia has drastically reduced the scale of direct elections of mayors in the capital cities of constituent regions. By the end of the year, the regions were to make up their mind on the way they would be electing executive and representative bodies of power in cities and villages. The elections of mayors have been preserved only in 14 administrative centres of the 80. Under the new law, the local authorities were free to make the choice on their own.

The authors of the reform hope it will enhance the effectiveness of economic management and ease political confrontation between different tiers of power. The people are tired of elections, say regional leaders. Governors are interested in centralized decision-making, but this by no means promotes local self-government, experts say.

The regions obtained the right to decide whether they wish to hold direct mayoral elections with the adoption of a special federal law earlier this year. The federal government empowered the regions to decide on a pattern of electing or appointing the heads of municipalities.

The so-called “city managers,” who are to replace elected mayors, will be chosen on a contested basis. The idea is that cities will be run by professional managers immune to populist sentiment.

Most Russian cities had shifted to the institution of city managers before 2014. This year, some ten constituent territories of Russia passed legal acts cancelling direct mayoral elections. Even those regions where governors were originally against cancelling direct elections have been gradually giving in.

As the RBC daily has found, 66 regions have refused to elect the mayors of their capital cities to opt for concluding contracts with professional managers. Mayors will continue to be elected in 14 administrative centres. Protest sentiment in some of them is rather strong.

An overwhelming majority of governors, many of them at odds with mayors, backed the cancellation of elections the regional legislatures approved earlier.

“There will be less populism and fewer bright unrealistic pledges having nothing to rely on. There will be more real work to improve urban infrastructures and utilities,” said the governor of the Yaroslavl Region, Sergey Yastrebov.

The Krasnodar Region’s governor, Alexander Tkachyov, said his territory has held more than 1,700 election campaigns and the budget costs were considerable. Time is ripe to optimize the number of elections. The reform does offer such an opportunity.

“The reform has two sides to it,” the deputy chief of the public administration chair at the Russian Presidential Academy of the National Economy and Public Administration, Alexander Balobanov, told TASS. “On the one hand, there is the general trend in the system of public administration towards centralization and effectiveness understood in a very narrow way. On the other, there is a political system of relations behind that.”

The expert believes that this is a step by the federal center to meet the regional authorities halfway, because the cancellation of elections concentrates power in their hands. In the 1990s, during the regional anarchy the federal government relied on local self-governments in its disputes with the regional authorities, he recalled.

“It remains to be seen how effective the concentration of decision-making functions in one center will be, but it is really clear it contradicts the nature of local self-government. The reform works against its development,” Balobanov said.

TASS may not share the opinions of its contributors