Staunton, November 27 – Moscow often suggests Russian law precludes having elected mayors in cities, but in fact, the law allows each city to decide whether to do so or not. And as more and more Russians learn the truth, they are trying to restore elections, but United Russia, governors and the Kremlins are largely blocking their efforts.
A dozen years ago, 73 percent of Russia’s 109 largest cities had elected mayors; now, only 12 percent do, not so much because the law requires it as because governors appointed by the Kremlin don’t want the kind of competition someone with an election mandate receives, local politicians say.
Besides the capitals, Russians now can now select their mayors by election only in Anadyr, Abakan, Yakutsk, Ulan-Ude, Novosibirsk, Khabarovsk and Tomsk. And in the last two years alone, they have lost that right in three others, Yekaterinburg, Kemerovo and Novokuznetsk.
Officials opposed to elections often argue that elections cost too much, interest in them is too small, and elections can sometimes throw up “odious” candidates who only embarrass the city in question, one candidate says (7x7-journal.ru/articles/2020/11/27/shansy-50-50-kak-zhiteli-regionov-pytayutsya-vernut-vybory-merov-i-chto-etomu-meshaet).
Pavel Plotnikov, a Just Russia deputy in the Tambov Oblast Duma, says that “the idea of returning direct elections is undoubtedly popular. The last city elected showed that the voters support its backers. But United Russia will hardly support the initiative” because it sees it as a threat to its ability to control everything in the system.
But it is not just or even so much United Russia that is the leading opposition force. In regions where the governor is a member of another party, such as Oryel where KPRF leader Andrey Klychkov is governor, the party of the governor has taken the lead in opposing direct elections, fearing competition between the governor and the head of the regional capital.
Sometimes appointed mayors or city managers can do a good job, but in Russia, they are changed so often that they seldom are able to take control of the city administrations, thereby weakening them relative to the regional leadership and Moscow. In some places, there have been five to seven changes in less than a decade.
“To change the situation,” 7x7 commentator Aleksandra Korobeynikova says, will require a significant change in the balance of forces in parliaments and in Russian politics as a whole.” For the time being, “the current political elite has vertical on the brain” and will seek to eliminate all urban elections.
There is a basis for optimism, she continues. People want to vote for their mayors; and consequently, efforts to restore voting at this level are a barometer of their achievement of even broader changes. That is what the Kremlin is afraid of; but it is why there is hope for the future after its denizens leave the scene.