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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Mayoral Elections Under Threat

United Russia's faction in the State Duma unveiled a bill Tuesday that would allow the abolition of elected mayors in big cities -- the only powerful officials still outside the Kremlin's direct control.

The bill's author, Vladimir Mokry, said the Duma would vote on the bill in the first of three readings within the next two weeks.

A parliamentary source said the initiative for the draft came from the Kremlin.

"Public officials answer to the public for providing services," Mokry, chairman of the Duma's Local Administration Committee, said at a news conference. "If that is not being done properly, then the state has an obligation ... to take the responsibility onto itself."

Mokry said his proposal left it up to regional governors to decide if they wanted to abolish the post of mayor. They would need to hold a referendum before going ahead.

He said if the mayor was axed, local government would be devolved to lower-level district councils within the city. A bureaucrat would take over some of the mayor's functions.

"This draft has one aim: to improve the effectiveness of running local government," Mokry said.

Critics of President Vladimir Putin say the proposal, introduced two years after direct elections for regional governors were also abolished, is new proof of a Kremlin campaign to dismantle democracy.

The proposal will for the first time give governors the right to abolish the post of mayor in nearly 90 regional capitals and take over some of the mayors' powers. It would not apply to Moscow and St. Petersburg, which have special status, but would open the way for mayors to be phased out in cities like Nizhny Novgorod, Yekaterinburg and Novosibirsk, which have populations of over 1 million.

"This is the latest -- and completely unconstitutional -- act to dismantle the institutions of Russian democracy on a par with ... the abolition of gubernatorial elections," the liberal Yabloko opposition party said in a statement.

During Putin's six-year rule, the Kremlin has consolidated its control over key sectors of the economy, opposition parties have been sidelined and big television stations and newspapers have been taken over by Kremlin-linked companies.

In an increasingly monotone political landscape, the more outspoken big-city mayors often provide a flash of color.

In Samara, former Mayor Georgy Limansky fought a public turf war with Governor Konstantin Titov that involved corruption charges against the mayor.

Nizhny Novgorod mayor Vadim Bulavinov has complained about the Kremlin's centralization of power, an unusually bold statement for any official. Arkhangelsk Mayor Alexander Donskoi announced last week that he plans to run for president in 2008.

But local government in big cities is often paralyzed by squabbling between the mayor and the regional governor over who controls the tax revenue from big local industries, and voters hold many mayors in low esteem.