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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A One-Man Vote

Everyone says Russia no longer has gubernatorial elections, but this isn’t true. They still exist, although only one voter is allowed to cast his vote. And the campaigning to win that vote can be intense.

The most recent example is Eduard Rossel, the former governor of the Sverdlovsk region who spent three months before the “election” in a frenzy trying to show his single constituent that he is influential, loyal and, at 72, still physically fit. But all his efforts didn’t help. In November, President Dmitry Medvedev replaced Rossel, who had headed the Sverdlosk region since 1990, with Alexander Misharin, a former deputy transportation minister.

The “election” marked the first application of a new procedure that allows the party dominating the regional legislature — which is to say United Russia, of course — to nominate gubernatorial candidates.

Influential groups can also nominate a candidate, including large state corporations such as Russian Technologies, Rosneft, Russian Railways and Rusnano. At the same time, siloviki structures seem to be losing ground, with their representatives gradually disappearing from the gubernatorial ranks.

On Friday, Medvedev signed a law making the allowable time frame for nominating gubernatorial candidates significantly shorter. The president said he introduced the change because the procedure for confirming governors should be “faster, more understandable and should strengthen the government’s authority.”

That seems to be logical, except that the president has shown no qualms about violating deadlines that his administration has interpreted broadly. Now, only one month is permitted for presenting an approved list of candidates, as if existing lists are not approved in advance by the presidential administration anyway.

Meanwhile, Medvedev has yet to officially approve the list of gubernatorial candidates for the Kurgan region, despite receiving the list in mid-September. And the president has not made a final decision, even though all the deadlines passed long ago. The governor of the Astrakhan region was appointed two weeks behind schedule as well.

A list of candidates started accumulating on Medvedev’s desk in early September. Over the past four months, United Russia has given the president the names of candidates for 13 governor positions. Of those, only two have been named. Incumbent Alexander Zhilkin was reappointed as the governor of Astrakhan and Misharin to Sverdlovsk. The backlog of appointments is bound to increase significantly, considering that the terms for one-third of all governors are set to expire in 2010 and that the current docket — with the exception of Dagestan — does not include any particularly difficult cases.

The new “party system” for naming governors only perpetuates the worst problems of the previous system of appointments — namely, the fear of strong competition for the governor from the regional political elite and an overreliance on representatives of state corporations.

The list of backup candidates is also diminishing. The result is that we are seeing an increasing number of St. Petersburg representatives of the  Putin-Medvedev tandem being tapped for these jobs, and their children and acquaintances as well.

Medvedev is correct in saying the present system of selecting gubernatorial candidates is ineffective. The solution, however, is not to patch over the problems in the system, but to change the system entirely.

Nikolai Petrov is a scholar in residence at the Carnegie Moscow Center.