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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Governors Line Up

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United Russia's party list for the State Duma elections, announced at the party's congress on Sept. 20, provided analysts with plenty of food for thought. In addition to the two regional heavyweights, Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov and Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiyev, included on the federal part of the list, 28 regional leaders figure on regional lists. In total, two thirds of regional lists are headed by governors.

The Kremlin's rapprochement with regional leaders, who until not long ago were among the federal center's biggest enemies, was initiated at United Russia's congress at the end of March, when the party's higher council inducted six governors: Viktor Ishayev (Khabarovsk), Vladimir Pozgalyov (Vologda), Vladimir Chub (Rostov), Alexander Khloponin (Krasnoyarsk), Aman Tuleyev (Kemerovo) and Yegor Stroyev (Oryol).

The current gubernatorial "crescendo" is in counterpoint to the Duma elections in 1999, when initially several dozen governors signed an appeal to the country, which was the first stage in the creation of the pro-governmental Unity party; several days later at the official launch, only nine regional leaders made an appearance; and when they got down to drafting the party list, only one governor consented (Tver Governor Vladimir Platov, who now faces criminal charges).

So what were the criteria for selecting United Russia's gubernatorial regiment? The backbone is made up of the gubernatorial caucus in United Russia's higher council. Clearly, first and foremost the Kremlin needs influential heads of strong regions. It is surely no coincidence that the Kremlin team includes six of the seven governors heading the regional centers of the federal districts: Luzhkov, Chub, Ishayev, Sverdlovsk Governor Eduard Rossel, acting St. Petersburg Governor Alexander Beglov and even Nizhny Novgorod Governor Gennady Khodyrev -- who was elected with the Communist Party's support and whose wife is running on the Glazyev bloc party list.

Of course, the Kremlin's relations with the regional elite are far too pragmatic to allow ideological considerations to get in the way. As a result, the Kremlin regiment includes former Soviet Politburo member Stroyev, former regional First Party Secretary Shaimiyev, former Communist presidential candidate Tuleyev, as well as technocrats such as Adygeya President Khazret Sovmen and Khloponin. The original idea of getting "non-party" governors on board is reminiscent of the so-called "indestructable bloc of communists and non-party members" in Soviet times.

Having big names on the list is all well and good, but the most important thing is how many voters stand behind those names. The Kremlin list attempts to encompass as many voters and regions as possible. Of Russia's 10 largest regions, nine are represented on the United Russia party list, accounting for almost one third of the electorate. All told, the several dozen regional leaders on the party list give the Kremlin a "controlling stake" of more than 50 percent of voters.

The Kremlin not only lured all the most influential governors into the United Russia camp, it also scared the others off running with any other parties. The only exception is Mikhail Lapshin, leader of the Agrarian Party and head of the Altai republic.

Four years ago, apart from governors on the Fatherland-All Russia party list (six) and Unity (one), there were six on Our Home Is Russia's party list and two on the Communist Party list. This time around, the number of governors participating in the elections has increased, and they are all marching under the banner of the chief "party of power."

It is pretty clear what the Kremlin needs from the governors, but what do the governors need from the Kremlin? Six of the regional leaders face gubernatorial elections in December and, while they normally register as independent candidates, a show of Kremlin support can be quite important for them, as well as the "administrative resources," which are now much more heavily concentrated in the hands of the Kremlin than was previously the case. Some governors, like Leningrad Governor Valery Serdyukov and Rossel, have just won re-election, and now it's payback time.

Russia's rich history provides us plenty of analogies. For example, the Kremlin's current tactics vis-a-vis the regional leaders can be compared to those employed in 1993, when to ensure that Boris Yeltsin's constitutional referendum was passed, the governors were made to run in elections for the Federation Council. Then, of course, the governors' incentives were positive -- they were gaining legitimacy independent of the Kremlin. Now they are more like hostages who have to prove themselves and earn the right to rule as feudal princes.

Chained to United Russia, they are called upon to ensure a good result for the Kremlin not only by delivering the vote for the "party of power," but also by ensuring a good turnout. Following the principle that you answer with your head, I would recommend banishing the governors whose regions perform poorly to the Duma for "retraining" purposes. Indeed, it should not be ruled out that some governors will end up there.

If the Kremlin strategists' are successful, it could have far-reaching consequences, including vis-a-vis plans to enlarge regions and Duma elections becoming a vote of confidence in regional governors.

Nikolai Petrov, head of the Center for Political and Geographical Research, contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.