Putin's supporters -- and many regional governors rushed to applaud the reform in the days following Putin's speech -- savaged Russia's flawed elections. St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matvienko told ITAR-TASS on 14 September that under direct elections "a random person can come to power and there is no mechanism to recall him," adding that voters are easily swayed by populist rhetoric. Ryazan Governor Georgii Shpak told regions.ru the same day that elections merely bring "photogenic" people to power. "They can speak well, but they cannot do anything." Yaroslavl Governor Anatolii Lisitsyn said direct elections mean that governors can be "pushed around" by voters.
A Pattern Emerges
In the five months since the reform was adopted, the pattern of gubernatorial appointments has clearly shown that the reform was not intended to replace ineffective governors who had come to power by manipulating a flawed electoral system. In the first 20 regions to pass through the new system, Putin reappointed 17 incumbents. (For a Fact Box on those appointments, click here.) Only Saratov Oblast Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov and Tula Oblast Governor Vasilii Starodubtsev were rejected, while Koryak Autonomous Okrug Governor Vladimir Loginov was dismissed under accusations of incompetence. In effect, Putin has seemed to be endorsing the choices made by the people in almost every case, but he has made their political fortunes dependent on him rather than on the electorate.
Analysts have noted that the success rate of incumbents under the new system -- which has had the additional effect of abolishing term limits -- is considerably higher than the already-high rate seen under the old direct-election system. According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 7 June, only 13 of the 21 incumbents who faced re-election in 2004 managed to hold on to their posts.
After Putin announced his reform, many observers felt that the new system could be used to remove entrenched leaders in many of the country's so-called ethnic republics, leaders who so thoroughly control the local political machines that the oppositions have no hope of winning an election. Oppositionists in the Republic of Bashkortostan were particularly encouraged and took to the streets in a campaign to urge Putin to oust republican President Murtaza Rakhimov. However, these hopes have largely backfired, as Rakhimov and others have used the unrest as evidence of the need for a firm hand and stability. In the Republic of Tatarstan, President Mintimer Shaimiev, who has called the shots there since 1991, was given an unprecedented fourth term in March.
Kremlin 'Cash Cow'
Moscow Carnegie Center analyst Nikolai Petrov wrote in "The Moscow Times" on 6 June that the new system has developed into a major cash cow for the Kremlin. According to Petrov's sources, governors pay tens of millions of dollars to secure access to Putin's endorsement, and governors -- even those with many months remaining on their old mandates -- are lining up to pay and receive the Kremlin's blessing. Petrov wrote that his sources tell him that some governors pay for their endorsements not in cash but by placing Kremlin-selected figures in key positions in their republics, meaning that the corruption in the system is seeping deeper into local administrations. As Petrov warned, the potential for explosive instability in such an opaque and corruption-riddled system is considerable.