Regions Ready to Abandon Mayoral Elections

January 14, 2014
Photo: Kommersant / Dmitry Azarov

In early December, TV Rain published an article that claimed, according to a source, that Putin was on the verge of eliminating mayoral elections, which would make the office of mayor an appointed one. It was speculated that this was in response to Alexei Navalny’s strong showing in the recent mayoral race in Moscow. While Putin rejected this idea, many Russian liberal media outlets and thinkers believe that this is still Putin’s intention.

Buried in this fairly technical article by Kommersant, the pro-Kremlin news outlet owned by Alisher Usmanov, is the idea that the regions themselves are asking for mayors to be appointed rather than elected as part of a larger reform package. — Ed.

The working group on the reform of local self-government (LSG) has received approximately 300 proposals from the regions. Most of them are about the extension of state jurisdiction to include urban districts and municipal communities, as well as abandoning the practice of mayoral elections. This week the reform of local self-government will be discussed by the government and the State Duma. Meanwhile, experts believe that the main purpose of the reform is to ensure that officials have access to the municipal resources in the face of falling budgetary revenues.

Vladimir Putin announced the reform of local self-government in his address to the Federal Assembly on December 12, 2013, noting that “the scope of responsibilities of municipalities is not aligned with their resources.” He defined a general direction of the reform at a press conference on December 19, calling the two-tier system of local self-government inefficient. At the same time, he said that mayors should “only be elected “. The President made the Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev as well as the regional governors responsible for drafting proposals for reform by July 1, 2014. On January 9, the Prime Minister in his turn instructed the ministers of regional development, justice, and finance, together with the governors and the All-Russian Council of Local Government (VSMS) and the Congress of Municipalities (OKMO) to discuss this issue by March 31.

This week the government will discuss ways to improve the system of local self-government, and the working group on reform of local self-government headed by Vyacheslav Timchenko, the head of VSMS, and Stepan Kirichuk, the head of OKMO, will consider proposals by the regions.

Mr. Timchenko (“United Russia”) noted that the reform proposals are expected from the Federation Council, the State Duma, regional parliaments and mayors, as well as from experts on local governance. According to him, the group has already received “about 300 proposals” in 50 areas – from requests to give money to municipalities and not change anything to the idea to ​​”abolish self-government at the municipal and district levels.” There are proposals to relieve rural settlements from expenditure powers, make a list of municipal powers that cannot be delegated to the district or federal level. Ideas have been expressed to create agglomerations, not only around the cities, but also in rural areas. Regions have also proposed to extend the coverage of the state authorities responsible for road construction and local transport to include settlements. “Local leaders could become the eyes of the state power in the municipalities coordinating government work,” said Mr. Timchenko. Recall the idea of ​​Ulyanovsk Governor Sergei Morozov who proposed to abolish rural administrations and introduce the institute of local leaders in order to save money. That idea was once supported by the Prime Minister Medvedev (see “Kommersant”, September 6, 2012).

The regions are ready to abolish LSG not only in the villages, but also in major cities. According to the head of the VSMS, many suggest that the state power should be extended to cover urban districts with a population of 130-300 thousand people and municipal communities, and the LSG should remain only in city districts. It was also proposed to make city administrations part of the regional ones, to delegate the appointment of mayors to governors, and to leave only the staff in the cities that should be responsible for district operations. Mr. Timchenko did not specify who proposed these changes. Meanwhile, a similar scheme was proposed by the ISEPS (Institute for Socio- Economic and Political Studies) fund, led by Dimitri Badovsky in a research note for the presidential administration. The first option for the LSG reform proposed by the fund provides for the abolition of the second tier of local government (city and municipal districts with their administrations) and the creation instead of them territorial governments, the heads of which would be appointed by the governors. According to the authors of the note, only rural and urban settlements should retain the LSG status, as well as inner city areas (the first tier of local government). The second option envisaged creation of “urban agglomerations” in the capitals of the Russian regions with possible preservation of a two-tier system of local self-government, but mayors should be appointed by governors (see “Kommersant” of December 16, 2013).

Recall that back in 2006 deputies from the United Russia” attempted to abolish elections of mayors of regional capitals by making them part of the state administration. But with the help of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe the municipal authorities managed to defend direct elections (see “Kommersant” of April 4, 2006 ). According to Emile Marquart, the president of the European LSG Expert Club, another attempt to abolish LSG in major cities is aimed to take control of the most attractive assets concentrated here and give the local officials “without unnecessary formalities” to take control of municipal property and finances in the face of falling budgetary revenues.