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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Power Vertical Hits the Boondocks

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Despite statements to the contrary, officials at both the federal and regional level seem determined to have mayors appointed. The express opinion of some regional leaders, a spate of initiatives in the regions, and proposed changes to the federal law on local government point to one thing: The power vertical is descending to the local level.

When the law on the appointment of governors went into effect Jan. 1, governors such as Krasnodar's Alexander Tkachev saw imitation as the sincerest form of flattery and asked that mayors, at least in major cities, be appointed, too.

In a test case, at the instigation of deputy presidential chief of staff Vladislav Surkov, local elections in the Kaluga region were scrapped. Residents in one of the region's main towns, Obninsk, foiled the experiment, however, by successfully challenging the late January order in court.

This, perhaps, encouraged those interested in consolidating executive power to try a different tactic. In Omsk, for instance, 22 of the 27 candidates in the current mayoral race are workers at a local radio factory who proclaim that a vote for them is a vote against local elections. Somehow, they each managed to come up with the 150,000-ruble deposit to run in the race.

Regardless of whether the campaigns are masterminded by the Kremlin or waged by regional politicians, the State Duma is giving them a boost. Though they have rejected bills eliminating elections outright, deputies approved in the first reading amendments to the law on local government that would make it easy to get rid of elections by more subtle means.

As it stands, the law, which goes into effect next year, states that communities are to decide how to select their mayor via referendum. The idea of referendums, though, made some deputies uncomfortable. Rimma Ratnikova from Tatarstan claims that not only were such votes expensive, as public discontent grows they "could be a dangerous affair," Kommersant reported. Instead, the decision should be made by regional leaders, the very folks threatening the mayoral elections.

In 2002, Putin's assurances that he had no intension of appointing governors were broadcast across Russia. Now governors are appointed. Last week, Surkov was quoted as saying that mayors would not be appointed, yet politicians seem bent on doing just that. While hired city managers are common elsewhere in the world, this is not about the transparent hiring of a public administrator. This is about bringing the power vertical to the next level and further limiting the so-called dangerous affair of elections.