Staunton, August 17 – For federalism to exist in any country, many things are required, including direct elections, taxation and budgetary powers, regional laws, and a defined relationship with the federal authorities, Valentin Mikhailov says; but the way in which governors come to office and are removed are critical.
In a country like the United States, all these things are present and governors aren’t removed at the whim of the president, the Moscow commentator says. But in Russia, none of them are and governors are appointed and dismissed not by the people or regional parliaments but by the president.
As a result, Mikhailov argues, one cannot avoid the conclusion that federalism in Russia is “fake,” however often the Kremlin invokes the term (ej.ru/?a=note&id=35294).
Those who have taken to the streets in Khabarovsk to demand the return of their elected governor Sergey Furgal are “in fact defending one of the basic principles of federalism, the division of powers between subjects of the Federation, on the one hand, and the federal center, on the other.
The Russian constitution says all the right things – governors are elected by the people, they can be judged by the regional legislatures, and, if they are found in violation of the law, they can be removed – but only after that process is complete does the federal center have a role in bringing criminal charges against them.
“If, however, the federal center de facto can at any moment arrest an elected governor and deprive his ties with the voters, this is already not a federation but a harsh unitary state,” Mikhaylov says; and that is exactly what Vladimir Putin has put in place over the last two decades, something that casts doubt on the role of the Constitution in our life.
The treatment of Furgal has attracted the most attention because of the protests it has sparked, but Putin has been treating governors in the same way again and again, announcing they have lost his confidence, forcing them out, and then having them charged and arrested for crimes, without allowing the regional governments or people any role at all.
Many Russians have treated the Furgal case as sui generis, but if they consider how real federal systems handle governors with legal problems, they can see that it is anything but. Mikhailov points to the case of former US governor Rod Blagovich who was impeached and removed by the legislature and only then charged with a crime.
Until Russia takes a similar approach, it has no right to call itself a federation.