Just yesterday there was a major headline brewing in the Russia Press. TV Rain (TV Dozhd) ran a rather alarming headline:
Russia to Abolish Mayoral and City Duma Elections
The story sent shivers down a lot of journalists spines. The story, based on a “source,” said that Putin would make the announcement today, during his annual state-of-the-nation speech. The City Duma and the mayors would be directly appointed by regional governors, who would be elected directly. If true, this would appear as though it was a direct response to opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s strong showing in the fall’s Moscow mayoral election.
Well, Putin’s speech has been given, and there was no mention at all of this policy shift:
Fears from @tvrain speech that Putin would ban mayoral and municipal elections unfounded. Domestic politics section all generalities
— max seddon (@maxseddon) December 12, 2013
The speech was mainly about a defense of family values and an announcement that offshore companies would have to pay taxes. Not exactly headlines for the history books.
Now, TV Rain appears to be pretending like their previous article was never written. Our translator Catherine A. Fitzpatrick reports that TV Rain has not commented on their original story at all, and while they did report the Putin address, they made no mention of yesterday’s article.
So what happened? That’s an important question. TV Rain is an upstart media organization, one that has had a reputation of being more opposition-leaning and muckraking. But TV Rain has also been increasingly reliable, and has been trusted by the government in Moscow on several occasions recently, to say nothing of journalists and the Russian public who have started to view it as a more mainstream outlet. Would they run a story from a “source” if they weren’t given a reliable leak? And why wouldn’t Putin’s Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov deny the report?
Either TV Rain was played, they were sloppy, or the policy may yet come into effect by the announcement was pushed off. Perhaps there is a fight over this issue inside the Kremlin? Perhaps the leak was planeted to guage the level of outrage? It’s not clear. What is clear is that, if elections for mayors were to be abolished, this would be a disturbing development, with significant implications for the future of Russia democracy.
We’ll continue to monitor the story as it develops.