Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Reluctant Senators Vote to Disband




The country's regional leaders laid down their arms Wednesday, voting overwhelmingly to surrender their seats in the Federation Council and give their crucial backing to the government's tax reform package.


Many observers had expected the governors to sabotage the tax package as revenge for a law that would give the president the right to remove them from office. The State Duma overrode the upper house's veto of that bill last week.


But after intense back-room negotiations, the Federation Council members opted not to irk the Kremlin on such a key piece of legislation.


"We were not afraid to spend serious efforts in order to provide explanations with numbers, calculations and arguments to the [Federation Council's] budget committee. We met yesterday with governors, conducted work in the corridors," First Deputy Prime Minister Alexei Kudrin told journalists after the vote.


But even as it passed these two contentious pieces of legislation, the upper house was able to save face by rejecting a bill on the dismissal of mayors and local administration leaders. The bill is one of three bills submitted by President Vladimir Putin as part of his campaign to strengthen central control over the regions.


The governors voted 92 to 12 against the Duma's revised version of the bill, in which only the president, and not the governors, would have the right to fire the mayors of major cities.


The Kremlin is not likely to mind the Federation Council's rejection, since in its original version, the governors were granted control over all mayors in their territories.


Similarly, the conciliatory committee's version of the bill on the makeup of the Federation Council f approved 119 to 18 Wednesday f simply removed the Duma's radical changes, for the most part preserving the Kremlin's original draft.


Despite the heated debate over the law, it will have little effect on the regional leaders' power.


Instead of sitting in the Federation Council themselves, the governors will simply appoint representatives to do the job for them. Regional legislatures, instead of being represented by their speakers, will elect delegates to serve in the upper house full-time.


In the conciliatory commission, the regional leaders won back the right to recall their representatives, thus making them little more than puppets.


"With this law, they [the governors] lost nothing but prestige," said Andrei Ryabov, a political analyst at the Moscow Carnegie Center, adding that they may now have to work harder to be noticed by the national press.


But Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, one of the most vocal opponents of the law, said replacing regional leaders with representatives in parliament was only the first step in getting rid of the Federation Council all together.


"After they change the makeup of the chamber, it will become clear that no one needs a branch of power with no authority and that it should be abolished," Interfax quoted him as saying in an interview with Obshchaya Gazeta to be published Thursday.


"And the general purpose of all these measures is the concentration of power in the hands of the president."


Despite the combative mood of Luzhkov and a few other die-hard opponents, the Federation Council had been expected to pass the new, agreed-upon version of the law. Had it voted to reject it, the Duma would have easily overridden the veto f or pushed through the harsher, pre-conciliatory commission version of the bill.


A bigger surprise was the 128 to 13 approval of the tax package, which would cause an immediate drop in regional tax revenue, though the government promises an increase in the long run.


"The regions will now be forced to pass on most of their tax revenue to higher levels. We will get nothing; no region will be without a deficit," Luzhkov told the chamber. "Everyone will be confined to a stall, with the state proffering handfuls of hay."


But Moscow is one of only a handful of the country's 89 regions that currently collect enough taxes to make ends meet; the rest are supported by federal aid f and the government can always promise more.


Ryabov said the seemingly defeatist mood in the Federation Council did not necessarily indicate that the governors, who continue to wield enormous authority in their own regions, had been tamed.


"They lost the away game. Now there will be a return match on the local fields," he said.


Ryabov said some governors might respond to the Kremlin's assault on their power by refusing to defuse unrest at home, deflecting the blame for social and economic problems on Moscow.