Staunton, September 27 – Opposition parties in Yekaterinburg have been circulating petitions asking local assemblies to vote on restoring elected mayors, a move that the ruling United Russia Party likely has enough votes to block but one that highlights the importance of elections to the Russian people and not just at this level.
A group of opposition party activists has collected some 13,000 signatures on its petition, and the staff of the local legislature is now examining them. (Only 10,000 must be valid to force a vote.) That is likely, but experts say only 14 or 15 of the 50 deputies plan to support the measure, meaning that it will fail (ng.ru/politics/2020-09-22/3_7970_regions.html).
Activists are also seeking support for a referendum on this issue at the election commission of Sverdlovsk Oblast, even though the obstacles to achieving that are much higher – the valid signatures of two percent of the region’s population – some 66,000 in all – are needed, Darya Garmonenko of Nezavisimaya gazeta reports.
Those behind these efforts say that if they fail now, they will return to the issue in the spring, possibly multiple times, until they gain their end. What makes this and similar calls in the Altay and other regions important is that they highlight just how important elections are for the Russian people who have had fewer of them with each passing year of Vladimir Putin’s rule.
And it is quite clear that these moves to restore elections at the mayoral level are only a prelude to demands for elections of regional heads, something that would reverse the current situation in which the Kremlin appoints its people often with no local ties or interests rather than allowing the population to choose its own head.
What the opposition appears to be counting on is a two-step process. In the first, Kremlin loyalists will oppose their moves but in a way that will highlight the shortcomings of Putin’s “power vertical” arrangements. And in the second, one region or perhaps even Moscow will agree to mayoral elections in the hopes that that will calm the situation.
It won’t. Instead, it will further energize those who want real democratic choice not only about their mayors but about regional heads and beyond.