Great Shell Game in Duma
- By Nikolai Petrov
- Dec. 18 2007 00:00
|To Our Readers|
The Moscow Times welcomes letters to the editor. Letters for publication should be signed and bear the signatory's address and telephone number.
This is shameful. It is a hypocritical shell game where Kremlin political strategists dragged political heavyweights onto the ballots to serve nothing more than a decorative function. Then, after the elections, they were replaced by others who are unknown or even unpopular with the voters.
It is also shows the authorities' fundamental contempt for the people. Voters were first denied the right to elect governors and then were urged to vote for a system in which Putin and his appointed governors would, in effect, appoint the remaining office holders while referring to this result as the people's choice. It merely proves that Russia has no genuine popularly elected politicians.
The authorities used the Duma elections as a means of cleansing their ranks. The mayors of Pskov and Kaliningrad, as well as the heads of a few smaller cities and the head of the state council of the Adygeya republic, were sent to the Duma as a form of honorable discharge. They had fallen out of favor with the regional heads and left peacefully; their Duma seats served as a retirement package of sorts.
Among the "inconvenient" politicians expected to join the ranks of the Duma deputies are the mayor of Norilsk, the speaker of the legislature of the Ryazan region and a host of minor figures. The arrival of a number of well-known regional politicians into the Duma might have seemed like a cause for celebration. Unfortunately, such deputies rarely make a contribution to the Duma.
It should be noted that the process of cleansing the regional elite will not be limited to the transfer of some of them to the Duma. There will be "election sacrifices" from among leaders who were unable to muster sufficient votes, having aligned themselves with the "wrong" political forces and other "guilty" factions. The first sign of this was when the mayor of Glazov, which is located about 950 kilometers east of Moscow, was dismissed. The night following elections, the electronic vote-counting system stopped working in Glazov and the subsequent hand count gave United Russia a record low 42 percent.
Yaroslavl Governor Anatoly Lisitsyn also became a deputy and was the only one of the 64 regional heads included on the United Russia ticket to do so. Lisitsyn was one of the last holdovers from among the first wave of governors put in office by President Boris Yeltsin. At the time of becoming a deputy in parliament, he was still fighting with the local United Russia leadership.
It seemed he had won, but in the end he was not given the chance to stage the opulent celebration of Yaroslavl's 1,000-year anniversary he had hoped for. Some people see the reason for his removal as being United Russia's low 53 percent result in the region, others see it as stemming from his lack of success in carrying out national projects.
Still others claim it was because Lisitsyn was overly eager to establish contacts with members of various political camps. There is some irony in the fact that this December would have marked the end of the gubernatorial term to which Lisitsyn was elected by voters four years ago but the end of only the first year of the term to which he was appointed by Putin.
One of the main innovations of the electoral law is the so-called postponed mandate, which allows election winners who have refused their posts in the past to change their minds and be first in line for any future vacancies. Prior to such large-scale political reconfigurations of the political system, finding a place for those who refuse their office takes on added importance. Any "retired" governor or federal official, considering his political weight, would be unlikely to stand in line very long.
In this way, the current Duma membership will apparently set new records not only for the number of mandates that were refused by candidates, but also for the rotation of the deputies within the chamber.
Nikolai Petrov is a scholar in residence at the Carnegie Moscow Center.