A Provincial Power Test

This was only a test. Don’t be alarmed. That appears to be the message the Russian political establishment is feeding to the public as it spins the results of local elections on 1 and 15 March 2009.

The system is “completely stable,” said President Dmitry Medvedev; the results illustrate “the stability of the political system,” said pro-Kremlin political analyst Sergei Markov; and “the system works,” said Deputy Kremlin Chief of Staff Vladislav Surkov.

Robert Coalson noted that the Kremlin did not appear to be micro-managing this year’s elections as much as they had in past. “It could even be argued that the latest polls were used as a test run to see how strong the local Unified Russia branches were,” he wrote.

If we can surmise that the establishment has passed its test, then what happens next? For weeks the Kremlin has been sending signals that a major overhaul of the bureaucracy and political elite is on the way. Political commentator Gleb Cherkasov suggests that this purge is now imminent.

Moreover, the State Duma is now considering a bill that would allow regional governors to sack mayors — provided that they get the approval of two-thirds of the city legislature. Most city legislatures are controlled by Unified Russia.

It appears, then, that Russia’s political system is about to undergo another overhaul. The question remains: can the elite pull off such a stunt amid an economic crisis and rising public discontent? Perhaps, but it should prove to be a much harder test than the one they just endured.


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