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  • Perspectives:Gubernatorial Turnover in the Russian Regions, 2005—2012
  • Ekaterina Paustyan (bio)

The existence of elections at the subnational level is a distinctive feature of federal states.1 In September 2004, President Putin proposed abolishing direct gubernatorial elections in Russia.2 After these elections were eliminated in 2005, some scholars argued that Russia could no longer be considered a federation.3 They emphasized that the center's influence over the regions had increased significantly and that governors had begun to play by rules set from above. Between 2005 and 2012, governors were appointed by the presidential administration.4 In some regions, new governors were selected, while in others incumbents were allowed to remain in office. As a result, although the elimination of elections has shifted the overall balance of power toward the center, several incumbents have maintained a substantial degree of autonomy.

For example, the governor of Belgorod Oblast, Evgeny Savchenko, originally appointed by President Yeltsin in 1993,5 was reappointed by President Putin in 2007. Since direct gubernatorial elections returned in [End Page 427] 2012, Savchenko has been re-elected twice.6 He is currently serving his seventh consecutive term, such that Belgorod Oblast has not seen a transfer of power for the past quarter-century. Another example is the governor of Kemerovo Oblast, Aman Tuleev, who was elected in 1997, then reap-pointed by Presidents Putin and Medvedev in 2005 and 2010, respectively. He was subsequently re-elected in 2015, although he recently resigned his post following a shopping mall fire in the region's capital in which 64 people lost their lives. Tuleev served more than four terms and remained in office for 20 years. The absence of power transfer in these regions since the 1990s, despite regime change and variation in methods of selecting governors, presents a conundrum.

Governors have significant control over politics7 and economics8 in their region. Consequently, gubernatorial turnover has long attracted the attention of local elites and the public. However, its effects on regional development have—to a large extent—been context-specific. Most often, a leadership change has occurred because the president appointed a new governor to replace the incumbent.

This analysis focuses on the dynamics of gubernatorial turnover in the Russian regions between 2005 and 2012. It shows that the elimination of direct elections has contributed to the political survival of some incumbents. In addition, this analysis demonstrates that regions that have not seen a transfer of power in more than a decade are not the ethnic republics but the oblasts and krais with a predominantly ethnic Russian population. On the face of it, this is surprising: the heads of ethnic regions have the strongest political machines and deliver high electoral results to the United Russia party,9 hence one would expect them to be the most secure in terms of their reappointment.10

The initial procedure of gubernatorial appointment formally required that the president nominate a gubernatorial candidate for the approval of the relevant regional legislature.11 Before nomination, the president was [End Page 428] supposed to consult with a presidential envoy (polpred) in the corresponding federal district.12 This procedure was modified in December 2005, when the largest party in a regional legislative assembly was also given the right to suggest gubernatorial candidates to the president. Since July 2009, the political party with the most seats in a regional assembly has always proposed at least three gubernatorial candidates; the president has then nominated one of these candidates for the approval of the assembly.13

To be more precise, as a governor's term drew to an end, the leadership of the United Russia party would begin official consultations with the presidential administration concerning potential candidates. At this stage, the domestic politics department of the presidential administration played a crucial role, indicating its preference for certain candidates. Forty-five days before the expiration of the gubernatorial term, the United Russia leadership submitted a list of candidates to the president. Within 10 days, the president selected one of these candidates and nominated him or her for the approval of the regional assembly. However, this approval was rather symbolic, as assemblies tended to unanimously approve nominated candidates. As a...


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