Staunton, November 20 – Legislators in the two autonomous districts in Tyumen region and the one in Arkhangelsk region, the three remaining “matryoshka” federal subjects, this week simultaneously asked for the elimination of direct elections of their governors in favor of one in which the local legislators themselves would make the decision.
Moscow officials say this is not part of a trend, although four republics in the North Caucasus dispensed with such elections last year and none are planned in the two federal subjects in occupied Crimea, or a reflection of a drive by the Russian authorities to save money given the budgetary stringencies that sanctions are making necessary.
But one analyst says that the elimination of direct gubernatorial elections “will lead to the weakening” of the influence of the three, although from the center’s point of view, taking this step now is “logical: the country is being drawn into an economic crisis and it is important that Moscow establish tight control” over these “rich donor regions.”
In a commentary on Politcom.ru, Valery Vyzhutovich says that the simultaneous appeal by legislators in Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District and the Khanty-Mansiisk Autonomous District (AD) in Tyumen region and by their colleagues in the Nenets AD in Arkhangelsk region has raised many questions, given Vladimir Putin’s interest in amalgamating non-Russian areas with larger and predominantly Russian ones.
The legislators have asked the Federal Duma to revise the law so that the AD legislatures will select the governor from among a list of three approved by the president rather than having their governors elected directly by the people. That will bring them into correspondence with the pattern in the regions within whose borders they exist.
The AD lawmakers add, Vyzhutovich says, that this procedure will be “more democratic” because there will be more candidates and will “guarantee stability in these donor regions,” where much of the income from natural resources comes and goes into the coffers of Moscow and the region government.
But those considering what this means, the commentator says, “should remember” that both the Khanty-Mansiisk and Yamalo-Nenets ADs have sought “divorces” from Tyumen region so that they will be treated just like any other federal subject and not have to coordinate things with the region leadership.
These ADs, he points out, often feel that they are sending money to the region center without getting much in return, although the reality is quite different. Not only do they get many benefits from the infrastructure of the region, but they would not retain any more money from their natural resources than they do now if they were to separate.
Vladimir Churov, the head of Russia’s Central Election Commission, sought to put what the three AD legislatures have asked for in context. He argued that it does not constitute a new trend against elections, pointing out that there will be “no fewer than 13” regional head elections next September.
Moreover, he rejected suggestions that eliminating elections was a sanctions-driven measure to save money, although he said that in the country’s large northern areas, the cost of holding elections was quite high: In central Russia, each voter costs the state about 60-80 rubles (1.30 – 1.90 US dollars) while in the north, the cost rises to 100,000 rubles (2,000 US dollars) per voter given travel expenses for election officials.
Those differences can be handled, he said, by introducing “distance voting” rather than by scrapping elections altogether.