Russia's government on Tuesday ruled out restoring direct elections of regional governors, scrapped four years ago in a move that critics said undermined democracy. Russian media this week quoted the governor of the Tatarstan region, a major industrial centre on the Volga river, as saying direct elections for the 85 regional chiefs should be re-instated if Russia is to be truly democratic. Dmitry Kozak, the minister for regional development and a close associate of President Dmitry Medvedev, said changing the system for selecting governors again was not on the agenda. "Let's not dash off in different directions. We have just changed it. We are not going to change it back," Kozak told Reuters on the sidelines of the Renaissance Capital annual investment conference.
Some observers have predicted Medvedev, a 42-year-old former law professor, could ease the Kremlin's tight grip on power established during President Vladimir Putin's presidency . Other analysts are sceptical he can implement real change without the consent of Putin. After stepping down from the presidency last month, Putin stayed on as prime minister and continues to wield huge power. Prompted by Putin, Russia's parliament in 2004 changed the law to scrap direct gubernatorial elections. They were replaced with a system under which governors are nominated by the president and then confirmed by regional legislatures. The president can dissolve a legislature if it rejects his nominee.
The Kremlin said it needed to tighten its control over regional administrations so the country was better prepared to handle such challenges. The move also responded to fears among many for the unity of a vast country, still shaken by the disintegration of the Soviet Union.