The Russian parliament has granted preliminary backing to a new bill to allowing the Kremlim to scrap governorial elections in the country’s 83 regions. The bill would allow the President to replace directly elected regional representatives with candidates chosen by the local legislature from a shortlist supplied by the President himself.
Opponents have criticized the bill, which was approved by the lower house of Parliament on Wednesday, as a step backwards for democracy in Russia. President Putin previously scrapped the popular local governorial elections during his first term as President (2000-2008), but was forces to reintroduce them last year after a wave of protests saw tens of thousands of people take to the streets across the country.
The bill’s proponents claim that it is intended as a way to head of social unrest in regions with ethnically mixed populations, and to prevent the election of dangerously sectarian leaders in regions such as the North Caucasus where an anti-government insurgency has simmered on for years. According to the daily newspaper Vedomosti, Mr Putin plans to use the legislation to choose the leaders of provinces in the North Caucasus regions of Dagestan and Ingushetia in the autumn
During the debate in Russia’s Duma (parliament), opposition leader Dmitry Gudkov described the new bill as discriminatory and undemocratic:
“What has happened to make you think that citizens of certain regions do not deserve direct elections of their governors, and why are you also trying to guarantee that United Russia candidates will take power in regions where its level of support has fallen?” he said.