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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kremlin Has a Bill on Firing Governors

Contrary to what some see as a friendlier phase in President Vladimir Putin's relationship with the governors, the Kremlin is cobbling together plans to strengthen its grip on the regional powers.

The presidential commission in charge of developing proposals on the separation of powers between the governmental branches has drafted a bill introducing new rules for firing governors, Vedomosti reported Monday.

The Kremlin would have the right to temporarily replace governors with presidential appointees during a natural disaster or when a regional government has an unpaid debt amounting to at least 30 percent of its budget, according to the bill.

Furthermore, if a regional government is caught "misappropriating funds or violating the Constitution, a federal law or other norms," the Cabinet -- not the president -- would be allowed to temporarily replace the governor.

The bill is part of a raft of legislation that will be submitted to the State Duma in early November, Vedomosti said. Other bills in the package are to include a breakdown of how tax money is split between regional and federal budgets.

The commission overseeing the legislation is headed by Dmitry Kozak, the deputy chief of the Kremlin administration.

The proposed measures are spooking some governors.

"To send in the Audit Chamber, which would find a particularly cynical misuse of funds and then suspend [the governor] with a simple Cabinet resolution, is a dangerous innovation that infringes on our rights and destabilizes the regions," Pskov Governor Yevgeny Mikhailov was quoted by Vedomosti as saying.

Under the bill, the president would need the court's support before he could act in most cases. For instance, if a governor issues a decree threatening the "the legal and economical unity of Russia" and does not retract it two months after a court ruling, a second court must decide that the governor failed to comply with the first ruling. Only then could the president remove the governor.

In another example, a regional legislative assembly could be dissolved if it failed to adapt a local law to federal norms within three months of being ordered to by the court.

The bill also strips regional lawmakers of their immunity from criminal prosecution.

Spokesmen for several governors contacted Monday said they were unfamiliar with the bill and refused to comment.

Vedomosti said most of the regional leaders it polled did not object to court-sanctioned Kremlin interference. They said it would require a longer and more transparent procedure to make firing a governor more difficult then it is now.

Currently, the president can suspend a governor accused of committing a crime on the basis of a statement from the prosecutor general.

But the proposal to allow the Cabinet to suspend governors drew criticism.

Kremlin-connected political analyst Sergei Markov said the bill was likely to sail through the Kremlin-controlled State Duma. But the final laws would not be as far-reaching as the draft reported by Vedomosti, he said.

He said the proposals are in line with Putin's concept of government reform.

"The president's right to suspend a governor and a governor's right to suspend a mayor in extreme situations is a concept that corresponds to the ideology of today's authorities and will undoubtedly pass through both chambers of parliament -- but in a reduced form," Markov said.

The Cabinet's right to fire a governor is a negotiating position that the Kremlin is likely to drop in the process of discussions. "In the end, it will be the president's decision based on the Cabinet's proposal, and the list of instances when a governor can be fired will be smaller," Markov said.

Andrei Ryabov, a political analyst with the Moscow Carnegie Center, said the commission's proposals were among many being circulated and were chiefly intended "to keep the governors in shape."

He said they were unlikely to be sent to the Duma because Putin would not want to antagonize the governors ahead of parliamentary elections next year and the presidential election in 2004.

Ryabov said the recent gubernatorial election in Krasnoyarsk showed that election commissions alone cannot guarantee the Kremlin results, meaning Moscow still needs the governors' support.

He also said that a Constitutional Court decision in July allowing governors to run for a third term marked a new phase in the Kremlin's relationship with governors. He said they were slowly winning back the privileges that they had under President Boris Yeltsin.

Markov disagreed. He said that the outcome of the 2003 and 2004 elections will to a large extent be decided by the national television channels, which are loyal to the Kremlin. As for the governors, they would rather campaign for Putin than have the Kremlin send its own campaign staff to their regions.

Both analysts agreed, however, that the main battle in both Kozak's commission and the Duma will not be over the power to fire and hire but over the division of tax money.