Regions have begun discussing the possibility of abolishing direct elections of mayors of administrative centers in those federation subjects where they remain, with the Presidential Administration. At present, citizens can directly elect the heads of Khabarovsk, Yakutsk, Abakan, Novosibirsk, Anadyr, and Ulan-Ude.
Appointment is Federal Trend
The action is the same for all, actualized by the recent federal law on public authority, aimed at cementing the vertical. Political analysts remind us of this, because almost no one else is interested in this issue right now.
There is no substantial evidence that a mayor elected by the residents is less effective than a mayor elected by deputies. Nor is there any evidence to the contrary: everything depends on the qualifications and skills of the individual. Since arguments are in short supply, one cannot count on a meaningful discussion.
Some experts point to the absence of a common position on this issue in the Presidential Administration, with governors opposing the preservation of elections. Among the arguments they cite is the need to direct funds to special operations, not to elections. And this argument can work.
Tomsk ‘Fell’ in Matter of Selecting Mayor
On December 6, the Tomsk City Duma put an end to the process of changing the rules for the election of the city mayor. The charter of the municipality was amended, depriving the citizens of the opportunity to directly participate in the election of the mayor. Residents of Tomsk will no longer be invited to vote for the future mayor.
The competition of candidates will remain, but now the best will be determined not by the population but the commission, which will consist of officials and deputies. The decision was based on budgetary savings, the situation in the country, and the experience of other cities.
An explanatory note says that the contest system “will improve the efficiency of local self-government and the role of the representative branch of government,” as well as reduce costs.
Oksana Kozlovskaya, speaker of the Tomsk regional Duma and co-author of the document, explained the reform differently. According to her, the introduction of a regime of “basic readiness” in the Tomsk Region requires strengthening of public order and public safety, and this requires “prompt verified decisions involving all levels of public authority of the region.” The directly-elected mayor does not seem to be able to provide such solutions.
“Everybody wants to have order in the city. Elections are such a mythical...” Vladimir Reznikov, a member of United Russia Party, said making the attempt to give his definition.
The head of the commission on regulations and legal issues of the Tomsk City Duma Ilya Leontiev wrote on the Sweet Tomsk Telegram channel that he remains a supporter of direct elections, but with “the difficult situation on the front considers electoral dances inappropriate.”
“I consider this decision possible, but on one and all-or-nothing condition: if both the City Duma and the Regional Duma make a public commitment to the return of direct elections as soon as the special military operation is over,” said Leontiev.
The operation to cancel the direct election of Tomsk mayor was carried out swiftly, immediately after the region's acting head Vladimir Mazur secured his legitimacy in the gubernatorial elections.
“Tomsk residents show no interest in the procedure, the organization of which costs the city budget tens of millions of rubles. Of course, the money saved could be used to solve the city's problems. There are a lot of them in Tomsk, every day you tell me about them,” said Mazur.
It should be reminded that authorities of the former mayor of Tomsk Ivan Klein convicted for abuse and illegal business activity, were terminated at the end of July 2022. The new mayor must be elected within six months, that is, until the end of January 2023.
Abolition of Mayoral Elections is Discussed in Novosibirsk
In 2018, direct elections were abolished in all municipalities of the Novosibirsk Region, except Novosibirsk and Koltsovo. Then the point of preserving direct voting in Novosibirsk was one of the points of the Travnikov - Lokot pact.
In 2018, Andrei Travnikov, then acting head of the Novosibirsk Region, appointed by Putin, and Novosibirsk Mayor Anatoly Lokot made a joint statement about the agreements reached, under which the Mayor would give up his gubernatorial ambitions in exchange for guarantees of direct elections for the Mayor in 2019.
Changing the system of mayoral elections in Novosibirsk is a completely realistic prospect. The issue can be resolved in the near future, believes Andrei Kuznetsov, editor-in-chief and director of the information-analytical agency Center of Business Life.
Technically it is enough to change the regional law, and the city authorities will be obliged to comply. Just as in early 2015, the Legislative Assembly abolished direct elections of heads in all municipalities of the Novosibirsk Region, except Novosibirsk and Koltsovo, according to Kuznetsov.
The impetus for change comes from Moscow, but the abolition of direct elections may be convenient for the regional authorities as well, Kuznetsov believes. In his opinion, by 2023, “the system will be unified.”
“Many Novosibirsk residents will be upset by such changes. Citizens are used to competitive elections of the mayor. There was an opportunity to let off steam, to vote for the opposition,” said Kuznetsov.
“If we are talking about the need to fulfill the will of the federal center, the head of the region has no opportunity to oppose,” he said in conclusion.
Collapse of Democracy: is Khabarovsk Next?
Khabarovsk is one of the few cities where the mayor of the regional center in the old way comes to his post by voting of the people, which is dangerous to the vertical of power. Suffice it to recall the crushing defeat of Vyacheslav Shport in the gubernatorial race. There are the same risks in the election of the mayor.
“It is obvious that direct elections will be canceled. When and how it will be done is a matter of agreements and negotiations, but it will happen in the near future. Then the deputies will appoint the mayor of Khabarovsk through the commission, which automatically elevates and increases the importance of each servant of the people. But this must be done by people who are united by a common ideology. I believe that there is still a negotiation process, and dissolution is possible,” said the representative of the Russian Association of Political Consultants in the Far Eastern Federal District Daniel Yermilov.
It is important to note that even the deputies themselves do not recognize the current Duma as legitimate. In the spring, when there were rumors about the possible cancellation of mayoral elections, many parliamentarians spoke out very harshly.
“Deputies are elected by the people, and the people should vote for the mayor. With all the strife in our Duma right now, there is no way deputies should be allowed to elect the mayor. It goes against all moral principles. Moreover, there are currently only a minority of independent lawmakers, so I accept a kind of contractual situation, in which the necessary person is imposed from above,” said Duma member Natalia Zhiryakova in May.
Opinions of Experts
“Since the initiative to abolish direct mayoral elections has begun to be discussed and implemented in the regions, it means it comes from the Presidential Administration, probably, from the head of state himself,” said political analyst Abbas Galliamov.
“The authorities seek unification. Any governor is interested in abolishing direct mayoral elections. He doesn't need any direct written instructions on this matter, but just needs to catch the outgoing trends, the opinion of his superiors. But of course, if the governor wants to consult with the Kremlin on this issue, he won't be understood there,” says political analyst Konstantin Kalachev.
The abolition of direct elections of mayors is an unpopular measure, but no serious public and political discontent over it is expected, the expert believes.
The population is in favor of mayor electability, and mayors themselves would like to be more independent in relation to governors, says political analyst Alexei Makarkin. However, according to him, “in conditions of the special military operation the need for discipline, coordination of all levels of power is declared. This is the interest of the federal authorities.”