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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

3rd Term On Tap For Some Governors

In a move that seems to undermine legislation passed this summer to limit the power of regional leaders, the State Duma on Wednesday gave preliminary approval to a bill that would allow many governors to seek a third term in office.

Though introduced by a group of deputies, the law is widely regarded to be the initiative of President Vladimir Putin and his concession to the still-powerful regional bosses, particularly to Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiyev.

The bill, an amendment to the law on regional government, which took effect Oct. 16, 1999, defines a governor’s first term as that which he was serving on that date.

The 1999 law stipulates that governors are limited to two elected terms. But some people had argued that it was vague about when to start counting.

In Shaimiyev’s case, the amendment would mean his first term, which began in 1991, won’t count. By 1999, he was well into his second five-year term, which expires in March 2001.

Other regional leaders who could benefit from the amendment are Oryol Governor Yegor Stroyev, Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov and Chuvashia President Nikolai Fyodorov.

But the bill will not save all the governors. Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, for example, will not be able to run for a third term since he was elected to a second term after the October 1999 cutoff. Thus, both his terms will count toward the official limit.

The Duma voted three times Wednesday before cobbling together the necessary majority of at least 226 votes. In the end, the bill passed in the first reading by a vote of 240-155, with seven abstentions. The bill still must pass a second and third reading.

Alexei Titkov, an expert on regional politics with the Moscow Carnegie Center, said it was clearly the Kremlin’s work.

"The amendment was passed mainly thanks to pro-presidential Unity and People’s Deputy, so there’s every reason to assume it was done with Putin’s blessing and even at his bidding," he said.

But the move seems to go against Putin’s previous pledges to establish the rule of law and bring federal control to the regions.

The president began cracking down on the regional elite in the spring when he posted seven presidential representatives around the country.

His next step was to introduce a packet of legislation, which was passed in the summer, that deprives the governors of their seats in the Federation Council, or upper house, and gives Putin the right to fire governors who disregard federal law.

The change in presidential attitude has sparked criticism.

"I see here only inconsistency," Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov told Moskovsky Komsomolets earlier this month after the bill was introduced.

"It contradicts what the Kremlin was saying in May and June of this year about the domination of the regional elite, the ‘regional barons,’ lawlessness, corruption and the need to strengthen the ‘vertical power structure’ in order to fight against all that."

But Titkov said it was a logical compromise. "Neither governors nor Putin want open conflict at the moment."

Another deputy, Vladimir Lysenko of the Russia’s Regions faction, echoed what many other politicians and media have been saying about the law.

"I think that in large part today’s law was made for Mintimer Shaimiyev," he said during the Duma debate.

Few doubt that Shaimiyev — who governed Tatarstan even during the Soviet era when he was first party secretary there — intends to run for re-election, although he has been coy about his plans.

During his tenure, Shaimiyev has built a system of government that largely ignores democratic principles. He appoints the district administration chiefs instead of holding elections, and in his own bid for re-election he ran unopposed — also a violation of federal law.

The republic’s embattled opposition slammed the Duma’s decision.

"This is an undemocratic decision," said Rashit Akhmetov, editor of the opposition newspaper Zvezda Povolzhya.

Akhmetov said that instead of building federal-regional relations based on law, Putin was dealing with governors individually. As long as Shaimiyev remained loyal, he said, Putin would let him remain in power.

But, Akhmetov added, should Putin change his mind, he could always arrange for his ouster — the same way the Kremlin is credited with the removal of former Kursk Governor Alexander Rutskoi, who was struck from the ballot by a court the day before the election.

Ana Uzelac contributed to this report.