Monday, February 17, 2020

Yekaterinburg Duma Speaker Underhandedly Extends His Power over Legislative Committees

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 11 – It has often been observed that in Stalin’s times, local and regional officials became “little Stalins,” copying what the ruler at the center did in their own more limited spheres. Something similar is happening now, with officials outside the capital became “little Putins,” extending their power by what can only be described as hybrid means.

            The editors of Politsovet point to an example of this in the Yekaterinburg city duma where they say there has taken place “a real political revolution in the interests of its current head Igor Volodin” but in a way that most deputies have failed to see what has occurred (

            Volodin by stealth has acquired the power to “interfere personally in the work of any committee” of that legislative body, thus reducing the independence of the deputies and further centralizing power.  He has done so by introducing what his supporters call minor changes in the rules without the usual examination of such proposals by the relevant committee.

            The new rules, which were adopted by a bare majority of a minimum quorum, allow the head of the duma or his deputy to preside at any committee meeting and gives them the power to convene such meetings whenever they want them without consulting the chairmen of these constituent bodies.

            Initially, Volodin’s supporters said this was necessary to ensure a quorum but then, facing criticism, they suggested that it was needed because the committees are so overburdened that they will benefit from having the head or his deputies take part in and even direct their meetings.

            “The new rule,” the Politsovet editors say, “creates in the city duma a new political reality,” one in which the chairmen of the committees have little power and the head of the legislature controls almost everything.  He can now ignore or override chairman who do not agree with him and get his own way far more easily.

            Indeed, given how small the committees are, the participation of the duma head and his deputies in any meeting may give them a majorities so that they can vote out whatever they want regardless of what regular members of the committees do. Volodin says he will use this power to promote the interests of city residents, but many aren’t so sure.

            They fear that “the city duma could be transformed into an instrument for the achievement of the ambitious political plans of Volodin” and the sacrifice of the interests of the population. In the short term, this may lead to more conflicts between the head and the chairman, but over the longer haul, it may mean that the chairmen will lose their power.

            If that happens, what had been a more or less democratic arrangement in Yekaterinburg will become something else, the editors say, a conclusion that many of their readers will likely view as characteristic not only of that Urals city but of the Russian Federation as a whole in which ostensibly democratic amendments are now being used for anything but democratic ends.

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