In anticipation of the gubernatorial elections: how, where, and when?
The State Duma is preparing to adopt the second reading of the bill on the return of gubernatorial elections. The process of discussing the amendments to the text, the first reading of which was adopted in extremely general terms on 28 February, is in full swing. It is officially referred to as, “On Amending the Federal Law ‘On General Principals of the Organization of Legislative (Representative) and Executive Bodies of State Authority of the Subjects of the Russian Federation.’"
How will the elections be conducted?
Given the fact that the presidential elections have already passed, and that the risk of the scandalous initiatives of “annoying disgruntled citizens” has been substantially reduced, it is no surprise that the initiatives of public officials are becoming more odious and—if I may say so—increasingly unceremonious. Some members of the Federal Council “in coordination” with the Ministry of Defense are preparing a bill that would require citizens who have reached military age to appear in the military enlistment offices within two weeks of the publication of the presidential decree on conscription. Failure to comply would immediately result in criminal liability. So what can we expect on questions of the formation mechanisms of key authority group, in which the authorities themselves wish to retain the maximum possible means of intervention?
Ideas to strengthen the so-called “presidential filter” were voiced at the Federal Council’s 26 March roundtable: the legislation introduced to the State Duma, it is well known, stemmed from an idea expressed by the prime minister during his “Direct Line,” where he discussed its use as a formal but non-committal mechanism for party consultation with the president. Many experts have met this formulation with surprise and with spiteful interpretations. Now, however, the proposal openly provides the president with the right to reject party candidates submitted for gubernatorial posts, and these candidates—according to the amendments’ authors—will not be able to participate in the elections. At the same time, limitations are posed on the circle of parties who have the right to nominate candidates for gubernatorial positions. Now, it is assumed that this will not include just any party, as in the original bill, but rather only parties represented in the Duma and in regional legislative assemblies. The idea has also been proposed to include, “those deputies who have at least one quarter of the municipalities of a region,” but this idea will not increase the number of recipients with the right to nominate gubernatorial candidates, as currently there are no parties without representation in the relevant legislatures that meets these qualifications.
According to the original text of the bill, all more specific items (the number of signatures required for registration, the procedure for determining the winner of the election, etc.) are governed by the laws of the given federal subject. Establishing restrictions on the number of signatures for self-registration and the self-nomination procedures will be extremely difficult. So it has been proposed that candidates collect the signatures of of 5% of the number of voters in a given region. To be clear: the active federal legislation does not give the regions the right to establish registration requirements for candidates of this or any governing body that would require candidates to gather the signatures of more than 2% of the voters of a given territory. At the same time, the idea to establishment of absurd signature requirements for gubernatorial candidates is in clear contradiction to the meaning of the text and to the spirit of the other presidential bill on reducing the number of signatures required for candidate registration at elections of all levels. In this other bill, a maximum threshold was set for signature requirements at regional and local levels. This threshold is 0.5% of the total population of a given electoral district.
It is impossible to say at this point which version of the bill will become law. And in any case, a revision will be necessary of the framework of the law “On Basic Guarantees of Electoral Rights and the Right of Russian Citizens to Participate in a Referendum,” which specifies the general framework for regional electoral procedures. A prospective change to the text of this law has not yet been published, even in draft form. Still, the bill on introducing gubernatorial elections refers to this law.
It is understood that officials want to dilute the content and meaning of the forthcoming gubernatorial elections as much as possible. In fact, there have been efforts to turn them into referenda for pre-determined candidates. And this fight for the dilution moves to the very brink of rationality, and fails to consider the public consequences of these proposed restrictions. In essence, the amendments’ authors both consciously and unconsciously programmed the development of new scandals and regional political crises. Remember once again—the direct approval of candidates by the president or an even more strict form of filtration—it is in fact an attempt to vest the president with personal responsibility for all of the most contentious and scandalous decisions on refusing to permit either popular but “undesirable” candidates, or candidates from undesirable parties to participate in the elections. The supreme authority in the country has always distanced itself from unpopular and scandalous decisions by symbolically passing responsibility for such decisions to ordinary ministers. The famous principle of “good czar, bad nobles” has always served as a lightening conductor for political power. The more graceful, less scandalous trap against undesirable candidates is featured in the legislation—not to mention informal practice—and this is sufficient. So it remains unclear why such crude and scandalous mechanisms should be introduced. It is either an example of administrative zeal beyond reason, or it is a deliberate effort to make the situation absurd, guided by the principle, “the worse, the better.”
But in any case, there is no question that the diluted version of the bill on gubernatorial elections with all of the possible filters and other “insurance mechanisms” for the authorities will be adopted. This means that even if there are elections, the procedures will make them more closely resemble referenda. The governors and gubernatorial candidates will rely on the votes of citizens, which will radically change the whole system of incentives in their relations with the community and society. In turn, this will automatically influence their approach to decision-making and their consideration of the views of voters. After all, even in the most bizarre elections citizens will vote against blatantly unacceptable candidates, and thus the personnel selection in the federal center will have to change.
The forthcoming gubernatorial elections have already created within the regional elite a wave of expectation and an apparent movement toward the revival of local political life. Potential candidates have already been discussed and have appeared ambitious. Public opinions have been studied by way of informal consultations. And a wave of public expectations, hopes, and ambitions has emerged that the federal government cannot ignore, as ignorance would not bring about the most enjoyable of political consequences.
In a number of regions, the considerable bustle of State Duma deputies, city mayors, and some deputy governors can be seen with the naked eye. There are also territories that are likely to have interesting tensions between acting governors and their predecessors. The attitude of the population toward these governors, set against the background of what has happened in the time since their predecessors, is considerably warm in many cases.
Where and when will the elections be held?
When the gubernatorial elections will actually begin continues to be discussed in terms of predictions and assumptions, as it remains unclear, as the bill becomes a law. And that date will affect the fate of specific regions.
Currently (and in the past when gubernatorial elections were held,) the starting point for the procedures relating to the selection of candidates should have occurred at the end of the gubernatorial term, i.e., the day the new governor was sworn in and began his mandate, which now lasts four or five years throughout the regions of Russia. Under the current law, the process of gubernatorial candidate selection begins no later than 45 days prior to expiration of the present gubernatorial term. No later than 45 days prior to the expiration of the current gubernatorial term, parties with the right to propose their gubernatorial candidate nominations to the president should then hold consultations with the president, on the basis of which they should make a list of candidates for the president no later than 40 days prior to this expiration.
Currently, the bill for the return of gubernatorial elections states that they will be conducted in accordance with the law “On Basic Guarantees of Electoral Rights and the Right of Russian Citizens to Participate in a Referendum.” This law establishes different dates. According to it, regular elections on the regional and local levels are to be held on so called “common election days.” That is, if the previous elections were held in the period ranging from 1 November to 1 April, the next ones are to be held on the second Sunday or March. If the previous elections were held at any point between 1 April and 30 October, they are to be held on the second Sunday of October. Accordingly, the legal requirement of “common election days” will result in the reduction or extension of the term of the relevant authority. Between February and March 2011, the law was amended to permit such term reductions and extensions by not more than half a year in order to allow the possibility of regional parliaments combining with federal parliamentary elections falling on different years. This was relevant in cases where the terms of regional deputies ended during the six months before or after the State Duma elections.
For regional legislative assemblies, the decision to call elections should be made no earlier than 100 and no later than 90 days prior to Election Day, although the time can be reduced by one third in the event of early elections. Thus, if the same procedure is to apply to gubernatorial elections, than for an election to be held in October, the electoral procedures should commence between late June and early July.
Proceeding from the “common election day” principle, this means that in order to hold elections in October, the new law should be adopted and should enter into force by June. Furthermore, the regions still need time to adopt their own election laws. It is also possible that there will be conflicts when, for example, gubernatorial authority in a given region has not yet expired, but under the current procedure the process of party candidate selection for presidential proposals has already begun. If, for example, the law is passed and enters into force in June, in Buryatia and the Leningrad oblast—where the power of regional leaders is set to expire in July—United Russia should have already made their candidate proposals to the president. A relevant clause should determine the fate of such “transitional” zones.
Special elections—held in cases of the early termination of power, due for instance to a mayoral resignation or to dissolution of the council—are exempt from the “common election day” requirement, as is the case with State Duma and presidential elections. Theoretically, although this is unlikely) this article of the law could be adapted, and the meaning could logically include governors, on the basis of the fact that they have been sworn in and have taken office for a strictly specified term. After all, with “conferred authority,” no extension or reduction of powers would have occurred.
Because of the fact that appointments can only be made 45 days prior to the term expiration, it is likely that Novgorod and Samara will be the first regions to participate in “common election day” elections. The gubernatorial terms in both are set to expire in August, which will allow for enough time to make these appointments after the law has passed. Kostroma, Amur, and Bryansk would then follow. If, however, the adoption of regulations aiming to create a “common election day” for gubernatorial elections is prevented, than only regions where gubernatorial powers would terminate no earlier than 100 days after the entry into force of the law will employ direct elections.
In any case, if we proceed from the present situation with the upcoming expirations of gubernatorial powers (taking into account recent resignations, but not taking into account future possibilities of early elections and mass “unplanned” resignations,) it is unlikely there will be very many elections over the next two years. According to the existing schedule, direct elections will peak in 2015.
However, considering the rate of political and economic change in the country, there is a substantial likelihood that by then the gubernatorial election procedures will have changed from their current form. This applies to the possible special procedure for “national” regions, as well as other changes.
TENTATIVE SCHEDULE OF ELECTIONS UNDER THE NEW LAW ON DIRECT GUBERNATORIAL ELECTIONS IN SPECIFIC REGIONS IN THE COMING YEARS (ON THE BASIS OF PLANNED EXPIRATIONS OF GUBERNATORIAL POWER.)
Likely to be appointed in accordance with the current system of “conferred authority:"
1. MOSCOW OBLAST. Authority expiration date: May 2012
2. OMSK OBLAST. Authority expiration date*: May 2012
3. BELGOROD OBLAST. Authority expiration* June date: 2012
4. BURYATIYA. Authority expiration date*: July 2012
5. LENINGRAD OBLAST. Authority expiration date*: July 2012
Likely to be chosen by way of direct elections:
1. NOVOGOROD OBLAST. Authority expiration date: August 2012
2. SAMARA OBLAST. Authority expiration date: August 2012
3. AMUR OBLAST. Authority expiration date: October 2012
4. BRYANSK OBLAST. Authority expiration date: October 2012
5. KOSTROMA OBLAST. Authority expiration date: October 2012
6. SMOLYENSK OBLAST. Authority expiration date: December 2012
7. YAROSLAVL OBLAST. Authority expiration date: December 2012
1. KHAKASSIA OBLAST. Authority expiration date: January 2013
2. MAGADAN OBLAST. Authority expiration date: February 2013
3. RYAZAN OBLAST. Authority expiration date: April 2013
4. VLADIMIR OBLAST. Authority expiration date: March 2013
5. ZABAIKAL KRAI. Authority expiration date: March 2013
6. STRAVROPOL KRAI. Authority expiration date: May 2013
7. KHABAROVSK OBLAST. Authority expiration date: May 2013
8. CHUKOTKA AUTONOMOUS OKRUG. Authority expiration date: July 2013
9. INGUSHETIYA. Authority expiration date: October 2013
10. SVERDLOVSK OBLAST. Authority expiration date: November 2013
1. ALTAI REPUBLIC. Authority expiration date: January 2014
2. KOMI. Authority expiration date: January 2014
3. NENETSKI AUTONOMOUS OKRUG. Authority expiration date: February 2014
4. ORLOV OBLAST. Authority expiration date: February 2014
5. PSKOV OBLAST. Authority expiration date: February 2014
6. UDMURTIA. Authority expiration date: February 2014
7. IRKUTSK OBLAST. Authority expiration date: June 2014
8. BORONEZH OBLAST. Authority expiration date: March 2014
9. MURMANSK OBLAST. Authority expiration date: March 2014
10. ALTAI KRAI. Authority expiration date: August 2014
11. KIROV OBLAST. Authority expiration date: January 2014
12. ASTRAKHAN OBLAST. Authority expiration date: December 2014
13. KURGAN OBLAST. Authority expiration date: December 2014
1. MARI EL. Authority expiration date: December 2015
2. KRASNOYAR KRAI. Authority expiration date: February 2015
3. EVREI AUTONOMOUS OBLAST. Authority expiration date: February 2015
4. DAGESTAN. Authority expiration date: February 2015
5. TATARSTAN. Authority expiration date: March 2015
6. KURSKAYA OBLAST. Authority expiration date: March 2015
7. KHANTI-MANSI AUTONOMOUS OKRUG. Authority expiration date: March 2015
8. YAMALO-NENETS AUTONOMOUS OKRUG. Authority expiration date: March 2015
9. KEMEROV OBLAST. Authority expiration date: April 2015
10. CHELYABINSK OBLAST. Authority expiration date: April 2015
11. PENZENSK OBLAST. Authority expiration date: May 2015
12. YAKUTIYA (SAKHA). Authority expiration date: June 2015
13. LIPENSK OBLAST. Authority expiration date: June 2015
14. SEVERN OSSETIA. Authority expiration date: June 2015
15. ORENBURGSK OBLAST. Authority expiration date: June 2015
16. ROSTOVSK OBLAST. Authority expiration date: June 2015
17. BASHKORTOSTAN. Authority expiration date: June 2015
18. KALUZHSK OBLAST. Authority expiration date: June 2015
19. KARELIYA. Authority expiration date: June 2015
20. TAMBOVSK OBLAST. Authority expiration date: June 2015
21. NIZHEGORODSK OBLAST. Authority expiration date: August 2015
22. CHUBASHIYA. Authority expiration date: August 2015
23. KABARDINO-BALKARIYA. Authority expiration date: September 2015
24. KALININGRAD OBLAST. Authority expiration date: September 2015
25. KALMIKIYA. Authority expiration date: September 2015
26. NOVOSIBIRSK OBLAST. Authority expiration date: September 2015
27. MOSCOW. Authority expiration date: October 2015
28. MORDOVIYA. Authority expiration date: November 2015
29. TYUMENSK OBLAST. Authority expiration date: November 2015
30. IVANOV OBLAST. Authority expiration date: December 2015
31. PERM KRAI. Authority expiration date: December 2015
1. KAMCHATSK KRAI. Authority expiration date: March 2016
2. KARACHAEVO-CHERKESSK REPUBLIC. Authority expiration date: March 2016
3. ULYANOVSK OBLAST. Authority expiration date: April 2016
4. CHECHEN REPUBLIC. Authority expiration date: April 2016
5. TVER OBLAST. Authority expiration date: July 2016
6. ST. PETERSBURG. Authority expiration date: August 2016
7. SAKHALINSK OBLAST. Authority expiration date*: August 2016
8. TULA OBLAST. Authority expiration date*: August 2016
9. VOLOGDA OBLAST. Authority expiration date: December 2016
1. ADIGEYA. Authority expiration date: January 2017
2. VOLGOGRAD OBLAST. Authority expiration date: February 2017
3. ARKHANGELSK OBLAST. Authority expiration date: February 2017
4. TOMSK OBLAST. Authority expiration date: March 2017
5. PRIMORSKY KRAI. Authority expiration date: March 2017
6. TUVA. Authority expiration date: April 2017
7. KRASNODAR KRAI. Authority expiration date: April 2017
8. SARATOV OBLAST. Authority expiration date: April 2017
9. MOSCOW OBLAST. Authority expiration date: May 2017
10. OMSK OBLAST. Authority expiration date: May 2017
11. BELGOROD OBLAST. Authority expiration date: June 2017
12. BURYAT. Authority expiration date: July 2017