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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bashkir President Tries to Shift Powers

Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov has put the wheels in motion to hand over his office's far-reaching powers to parliament.

Analysts said the move appeared to be an attempt by Rakhimov to hold onto power by changing hats and predicted the Kremlin would not allow it.

Rakhimov, speaking in a carefully worded address Thursday, said Bashkortostan no longer needed a strong leader to move it through the difficult post-Soviet transition period. "The republic now has the opportunity to develop without crises and shake-ups," he said in the speech, posted on the region's official web site. "That means making the most of all factors, problems and, most important, opinions. So I think a collegial form of decision-making would better match the principles of a democratic and lawful state."

Rakhimov spokesman Marat Yamalov said legal experts were drawing up a new Bashkir constitution that shifts the executive branch's powers to parliament and that the draft should be completed by the end of the year. He said it was unclear whether the constitution would have to be approved by a region-wide referendum.

"It could be approved by our parliament, or maybe only its major points will have to be approved," Yamalov said by telephone from Ufa, the Bashkir capital.

He said the conversion faced no legal roadblocks "because Dagestan has this sort of rule and it has proven to be very suitable for multi-ethnic republics."

Dagestan is the only region with an executive branch that resembles a parliament. The Dagestani State Council, which comprises representatives of each of the region's more than 35 ethnic groups, elects its chairman, who serves as the regional leader.

Bashkortostan has 113 ethnic groups, with the largest part of the population being Russians, Bashkirs and Tatars, according to official statistics.

Alexander Postnikov, head of the constitutional law department at the federal government's Institute of Legislation and Comparative Law, said Dagestan is the only such exception allowed by federal law. "It could only happen in Bashkortostan if the republic initiates amendments to the federal law and the law is changed," he said.

A 1999 law on regional executive and legislative bodies states that the leader of a regional executive branch must be elected by popular vote. An exception was made for regions that were already electing its leaders by "a special meeting of representatives," as allowed by the Russian Constitution. Dagestan was the only region with such an executive branch.

"This exception is the subject of constant debate, and many say it must be abolished," Postnikov said.

Yamalov said each item in the new Bashkir constitution would have to be approved by the Kremlin commission headed by Dmitry Kozak that deals with the distribution of powers in the regional and federal governments. He said the proposed constitution has not yet been sent to the commission.

The commission did not reply to faxed questions Friday.

By law, Rakhimov could run for a third and final term in Bashkortostan next summer, but his chances of winning have been cut significantly after a falling out with the Kremlin over his go-it-alone attitude, analysts said. In recent months, the Kremlin's envoy to the Volga Federal District, Sergei Kiriyenko, has repeatedly accused Rakhimov of refusing to cooperate with the federal authorities.

"That is why the new constitution is being prepared," said Yury Korgunyuk, an analyst at the Indem think tank. "Rakhimov needs another post."

Korgunyuk said he believed that Rakhimov would not try to abolish the presidential post.

"The president would simply become a bureaucrat fulfilling the role of the republic's representative," he said. "All the power would end up in the place where Rakhimov would move to -- the parliament."

Valery Fyodorov, the director of the Center for Current Politics in Russia, said the plan, if adopted, would pose a threat to Bashkortostan and any other region that tried to follow suit. "After serving all their terms as president, these leaders would get to preserve their power by changing hats," he said. "This would cause stagnation and an end to the natural replacement of government personnel and the elite, which is essential for any political system."