Monday, 30 April 2012

Critics decry governor bill

Several Russian regions will directly elect governors this fall for the first time since 2004 after a bill re-introducing gubernatorial elections was passed this week – but opposition lawmakers say a slew of limitations have turned the measure into a farce. “What we will see in October is not an election,” Valery Zubov, the former governor of the Krasnoyarsk region and a Just Russia deputy, said. “It’s not a bill about elections, it’s a law about appointing governors dressed up as an election – I would not have become governor [in 1993] if my candidacy had to have approval from the top.” The State Duma passed the bill in its third reading on Wednesday with just 237 out of 450 votes, three months after it was introduced by President Dmitry Medvedev in the wake of unprecedented protests. The measure was seen as part of a liberalization package that included easing restrictions on registering political parties, but critics have since played down the move. “The amendments which were introduced by the [pro-Kremlin] United Russia party have turned the bill into a farce,” Just Russia deputy Andrei Rudenko told The Moscow News on Wednesday. His party took issue with changes introduced into the bill making it mandatory for candidates to be backed by 5 percent to 10 percent of municipal councilmen before they can be nominated, and forcing independents to get the backing of serving governors. “Only one party can achieve this – the ruling [United Russia] party that has a near total presence [in municipal politics],” Rudenko said. And the so-called presidential filter, will allow the president to influence the election by holding consultations and publically voicing preference for a candidate. President-elect Vladimir Putin, who outlawed governors’ elections during his second presidential term in 2004, will in effect still get to handpick preferred candidates, Rudenko said. “You can’t allow someone holding executive office to engage in this kind of campaigning,” he said. Once the bill is ratified by the Federation Council, the upper chamber of parliament, it will take effect on June 1, 2012. In that case, three regions where the governor’s term expires by the end of the year – Bryansk, Amur, and Novgorod – will be eligible to hold elections as early as October 14. Rudenko was echoing months of heated debate about whether the law could usher in independent and possibly oppositionist governors, with many critics arguing that Putin would still retain leverage to appoint them in everything but name. Following Putin’s re-election, a handful of independent candidates won mayoral elections in their cities, while Astrakhan’s Oleg Shein, who lost to a United Russia-backed candidate, went on a 40-day hunger strike protesting voter fraud, stopping his fast only when his lawsuit over the election went to court. Meanwhile, independents such as blogger Ilya Varlamov, who is running in the primaries for mayor of Omsk, have flocked to the provinces to try their hand at local politics. In that context, the governors’ election bill was closely watched for clues to how much leeway independents would get to run for an executive post that involved more power than the position of mayor. Zubov, the Krasnoyarsk region’s former governor, said he may run again, but pointed out that his top priority is introducing new candidates. He would run, he said, only if the latter proves impossible. “How do you expect new politicians to appear under a law like this? They never will,” Zubov said. But supporters of the bill argued that direct, unfettered governors’ elections were too much of a radical measure given problems with corruption and rule of law. “Getting rid of limitations and filters is just as radical and wrong as getting rid of elections altogether,” Sergei Markov, a senior United Russia member and a former Duma deputy, inforned. “Both are extremes.” A governor, Markov said, not only had to reflect the will of the people, but also needed to be integrated into the vertical of executive power in such a large country as Russia. According to Markov, the real question is what kind of limitations to introduce. “For the presidential filter, I would have given the president the right to veto a candidacy,” Markov said.

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