Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Only 30 percent of Region Heads Have Good Chance to Win Elections, Russian Analyst Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 17 – Only 30 percent of the heads of regions and republics in the Russian Federation have a good chance to win re-election if Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s draft proposal to restore elections at that level of the country’s political system is accepted by the Russian State Duma, according to a Moscow expert.

            But the provisions of the final form of such legislation and the ways in which it might be subverted by strong central executive power are already sparking discussions in Moscow about whether Medvedev’s proposal constitutes a genuine return to electoral democracy in the regions or whether it is a kind of window dressing in advance of the March 4 presidential vote.

            If the heads of Russia’s federal subjects again are to be filled by popular vote, Yevgeny Minchenko, the head of the International Institute of Political Expertise, told the Novy region news agency yesterday, “one can expect a serious rotation of the heads of regions” because only 30 of the incumbents would likely win such votes (www.nr2.ru/moskow/367578.html).

            The others “have no chance” at all, he suggested. Among those with the least chances of election are the heads of the republics of Adygeya, Kabardino-Balkaria, Kalmykia, Karachayevo-Cherkessia, Karelia, Komi, North Osetia, tyva, Udmurtia, and Chuvashia, an indication of just how unpopular their leaders are among the non-Russian nations of the country.

            Other leaders likely to fail in any bid for election would be the heads of the Krasnodar, Transbaikal, Perm, Primorsky and Stavropol kray, and the head of Khakassia, yet another indication that non-Russians within the Russian Federation who make up sizeable percentages of the population of these subjects are also ready to vote for change.

            Among regional heads with mid-range chances to win a popular vote, the Moscow political expert said, are the heads of Bahkortostan, Buryatiya, Daghestan, Ingushetia, Mari El, Yakutia, Kamchatka and Krasnoyarsk kray. And mong those with “the greatest chance” are the governors of places like Voronezh, Kemerovo, and Kaluga as well as Chechnya’s Ramzan Kadyrov, Tatarstan President Rustam Minikhanov and Mordovia head Nikolay Merkushkin.

            Then, Minchenko said, there are some special cases. Moscow’s currenthead has “not bad chances” to be elected because “Moscow is so constructed that it is complicated to restore competitive elections:” there are no “specifically Moscow media,” and it is very difficult to conduct a “door to door” campaign since the numbers of voters is so large.

            But in his comments to the news agency, Minchenko said his estimate may not matter because the real issue is elsewhere: “Medvedev has come out with a proposal, but [Prime Minister Vladimir] Putin is silent,” raising the question of what is really going on and whether gubernatorial elections will in fact return.

            In an article in today’s “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” journalists Aleksey Gorbachev and Ivan Rodin explore some of the details of Medvedev’s proposal, details that may be changed in the course of parliamentary consideration or may be exploited in ways that would reduce the significance of the restoration of such votes (www.ng.ru/politics/2012-01-17/1_gubernator.html).

            According to Medvedev’s draft, parties could nominate candidates but such candidates would have to be confirmed in some way or other by the president, possibly a face-saving measure for Putin who did away with gubernatorial voting or possibly a way to vitiate popular sovereignty altogether. Candidates could also win nomination by petition.

            The “Nezavisimaya” journalists say that sources in the Kremlin “assure that consultations with the president will bear a purely voluntary character,” but on the basis of their past experience, many Russians and indeed many Russian parliamentarians may be deeply suspicious of such claims.

            That is all the more so because “before the mass protest actions,” President Medvedev spoke about the return of gubernatorial elections “as an extremely distant perspective,” and several years earlier,he said that “the return of the former system of electing governments was not something [Russia] needed even a century from now.”

            Moreover, in July 2011, Putin, the Moscow paper continues, “said that “there is ‘no violation of the principles of democracy’” involved in the appointment rather than election of governors. He added that elections only made the governors corrupt because they allowed candidates to “manipulate public opinion” and engage in corrupt practices.

            Now, as Aleksey Makarkin, the deputy general director of the Moscow Center of Political Technologies, pointed out, “the situation in the country has changed;” and Medvedev at least has changed his tune, although whether he, let alone Putin who preceded and plans to succeed him have changed their past views remains to be seen.

            Makarkin suggested that provisions calling for presidential approval of candidates were frought with difficulties: “If the president will be a dominating figure, then his disapproval of a candidate proposed by the parties might be viewed as an informal veto, but an attempt to block a popular candidate would have a negative impact on the president himself.”

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