Russian regional governors will be elected by a direct vote of the people, President Dmitry Medvedev said in an explanatory note to a bill on reintroducing elections for local governors that he submitted to parliament on Monday.
“Under the draft federal law, the top official in a subfederal entity … is elected by Russian citizens on the basis of a general, equal and direct voting right with a secret vote,” the note to the bill said.
The new bill drafted within a month follows street protests against alleged fraud in the December 4 parliamentary elections and increasing popular discontent with the political status quo. Governors have been appointed by the president since 2004, when then-President Vladimir Putin changed the law in order to strengthen national security in the wake of the Beslan school siege.
Under the new bill, registered political parties will nominate candidates for regional governors for five-year terms after voluntary consultations with the president, and their candidates will not have to collect signatures.
“Political parties will nominate candidates for regional governor after consulting with the Russian president. The scheme of these consultations will be introduced by the president,” the explanatory note said.
But Medvedev’s aide Larisa Brycheva said the consultations were merely for consideration. “Even after consultations with the president, they can select their own candidacy,” Brycheva said.
Candidates who are not nominated by a party will have to collect a certain number of signatures, as specified by local parliaments.
Under the new bill, the president will be able to sack governors for corruption, failure to perform their duties or over what is called “a conflict of interests.”
Medvedev fired ex-Moscow Mayor of 18 years Yury Luzhkov over a “conflict of interests” in the fall of 2010.
At the same time, the document said that the people would also be able to seek the resignation of a governor through a referendum organized by a local parliament.
Brycheva added, however, that a sacked governor would have the right to appeal the decision in court. “Such orders must be appealed in the Supreme Court,” she said, adding that if the court ruled in favor of the governor, the president would have to annul his dismissal.
The bill does not impose term limits on governors but requires nominees to be at least 30 years old, Brycheva said.
When asked whether former, including dismissed governors, such as Bashkiria’s ex-leader Murtaza Rakhimov or former Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov would be able to run, Brycheva said, “Formally, yes of course.”
Medvedev proposed reinstating direct elections of governors in his final state-of-the-nation address last month.
The new bill, if adopted, will come into effect in May, Brycheva said.
"The law will come into force from the day of official publication. We do not think it will be possible to bring it in before May for practical reasons," she said.
Russian regions will now have to amend their local legislation within two months to bring it into line with the new law if it is adopted, the explanatory note to the bill said.
Meanwhile, current governors will remain in their posts until their terms of office expire.
Experts welcomed the draft law and agreed it took into consideration the current situation in the country in the wake of street protests that followed the elections.
“I think the bill is mature, it is a shift from the current system of appointing executive officials in the federation members to a new format, which corresponds to reality,” political scientist Leonid Polyakov said.
Valery Khomyakov, director general of the Council for National Strategy, concurred, saying that the bill cut the number of filters and barriers on the path to gubernatorial posts, which is a big advantage in the current socially tense situation in the country.
“The authorities have thereby tried to let off steam from a frustrated public,” Khomyakov said.
Another political scientist Sergei Chernyakhovsky said the new bill would also increase the responsibility of the governors.
“This law is better than what we have now…. The system of appointing governors that was established led to governors worrying more about how to be loyal to the authorities rather than about what was good for the region,” Chernyakhovsky said.