Last week, a precedent was set in which a governor initiated the process of removing an elected mayor from office, writes Nikolai Petrov.* It happened in the Perm region, well known for its active political and civil life. It was there that Governor Oleg Chirkunov called for the removal of Yury Vostrikov, the mayor of the city of Chaikovsky.
(Chirkunov was never elected to his post, having been appointed in 2004 to replace his predecessor, Yury Trutnev, who left to become natural resources minister.) An amendment to the federal law on local government proposed by President Dmitry Medvedev and passed in May served as the legal basis for the move.
Chirkunov justified his decision based on the “inactivity” of Vostrikov and his administration in providing for the city’s vital needs. Specifically, local utilities companies did not pay their energy bills, leaving the city without hot water for three straight months.
A majority vote by the City Duma deputies supported the governor’s initiative and ousted the mayor. It should be noted that Vostrikov has served as mayor about as long as Chirkunov has been governor of the region.
One interesting aspect of this story is that when Vostrikov was re-elected to his post last fall, he beat out the United Russia candidate. It is also worth noting that regional officials consider the Chaikovsky area to be second only to Perm for its growth potential.
According to journalists, the newly appointed governor of Murmansk, Dmitry Dmitriyenko, wants to follow Chirkunov’s example. Dmitriyenko has differences with Mikhail Antropov, the Communist mayor of one of the region’s key cities, Apatity.
Antropov also beat out the United Russia candidate. Criminal charges are already being prepared against Antropov, who has also been accused of making inadequate preparations for the coming winter.
Two mayors had already been removed using the new law — in Suzdal (Vladimir region) and in Ozersk (Chelyabinsk region) — but in both those cases it was City Duma deputies, and not governors, who initiated the process. Interestingly, the Ozersk mayor contested the decision in court and was reinstated, but City Duma deputies are once again working to have him removed.
In direct violation of the article on federalism in the Constitution, the new amendments effectively place elected local governments within the federal power vertical. The new arrangement makes it easier to oust mayors for political motives or simply to carry out a personal vendetta. By invoking this law, the authorities are not so much creating a new trend as strengthening an existing one.
According to the Public Chamber, every three days last year a mayor was fired somewhere in Russia or criminal charges were filed against one. Mayors are especially vulnerable during an economic crisis because the budgets of most municipalities are running deep deficits and are dependent on subsidies from the regional budget.
But the main problem is that under the pretext of responding to the crisis and creating a more effective system of government, we are witnessing the dismantling of whatever still remains of the separation of powers.
In their place, elements of “emergency rule” and a highly centralized authority have emerged at all levels. This cannot help but have a negative effect on the quality of the decisions made by the country’s leaders at both the federal and regional levels.
* Nikolai Petrov is a scholar in residence at the Carnegie Moscow Center.