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Friday, June 20, 2008

The Kremlin Confirms: Russians Can't be Trusted to Vote

Reuters reports:

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.

KREMLIN CONTROL

But there was some indication the issue may be on the long-term agenda after Kremlin loyalist and speaker of Russia's upper house, Sergei Mironov, was quoted by Itar-Tass as saying, the topic should at least be discussed. "At the present stage, it's possible to think about the return of the election of governors," Tass quoted Mironov as saying. He added he was not in favour of any quick decision. Opposition parties, rights groups and Western governments cited the change as an example of what they called an excessive concentration of power by the Kremlin. The change was introduced soon after the Beslan siege in which more than 300 people -- half of them children -- were killed in a stand-off between security forces and Islamist insurgents who had seized a school in southern Russia.

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.

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