Of Mayors and Interlopers

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With Dmitry Medvedev's triumph in the presidential election grabbing the spotlight, elections for regional leaders went almost entirely unnoticed, despite the fact that elections were held simultaneously for legislative assemblies in 11 regions and a large number of municipalities and mayors as well.

The votes in the regions provide an opportunity to compare how the various parties performed on a national and regional level, as well as the differences in their tactics. Taken together, they provide a more detailed picture of the political situation in the country than the presidential election does. The regional elections also highlight new trends that have emerged following December's State Duma elections.

Due to the 7 percent entry barrier, only the four largest parties won seats in the legislative assemblies. (There was an exception. The Patriots of Russia party gained seats in Yaroslavl, where the minimum requirement was just 5 percent.) The Kremlin was able to weaken competing political parties prior to the Duma elections to such a degree that it had little need to interfere in the March elections. Parties other than the "Big Four" -- United Russia, the Liberal Democratic Party, the Communist Party and A Just Russia -- participated in only 11 electoral contests.

The Agrarian Party ran in three elections in the Kalmykia and Sakha republics, where they met registration requirements. Civil Force and the Green Party ran in two contests each. The Union of Right Forces, Patriots of Russia, the Peace and Unity Party and the People's Union all ran in one election each. Yabloko, meanwhile, did not participate in a single one.

Although United Russia swept the March elections, it did not perform as well as in December. In single-mandate districts where its administrative resources play a more decisive role, United Russia made an even better showing than where it ran a party list.

But where they did run on party lists, the Big Four scored roughly the same percentages as in December: United Russia walked away with 62 percent, the Communist Party was a distant second with 14.9 percent, the Liberal Democratic Party took just 9.2 percent, and A Just Russia trailed with 7.4 percent. The Communist Party also met every registration requirement, while the LDPR ran in seven Duma contests -- taking second place in two of them -- and A Just Russia met entry requirements in five of 10 possible elections.

Mayoral elections were held in 11 cities, all of which were capitals of their respective regions. The results of these votes were equally predictable, with nine incumbents keeping their posts. The remarkable showing by the incumbent mayors demonstrates their political strength, as well as that of the parties backing them up. It would also seem to suggest that voters are satisfied with conditions in their respective localities.

It is probably fair to say that few regional governors -- were they elected rather than appointed -- would have generated the 75 percent to 85 percent voter support like the mayors did in Yaroslavl, Kemerovo, Abakan, Novgorod and Khanty-Mansiisk.

One reason is that voters consider mayors to be "one of their own," while governors -- even those who have served for many years and who were consistently re-elected -- are increasingly viewed as outsiders who represent Moscow's interests more than anything else.

The two gubernatorial appointments since Medvedev's election -- in the Arkhangelsk and Ryazan regions -- only strengthen the impression of governors as outsiders. Both of these governors are political "interlopers" with no previous connection to those regions whatsoever.

This is a clear continuation of President Vladimir Putin's policy of appointing governors on the basis of their loyalty to the Kremlin rather than their connection to their appointed regions. This practice began during Putin's relatively stagnant second term in office, when governors had little more to do than distribute money allocated from Moscow and carry out orders from the top.

But there was a serious downside to this gubernatorial job function -- it did not prepare them for the new and inevitable task of implementing significant reforms in the regions. Relying on governors with little connection to the constituencies they were mandated to serve is like making a car's steering wheel more responsive by loosening its connection to the wheels.

Nikolai Petrov is a scholar in residence at the Carnegie Moscow Center.