Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

The Rise and Fall of Local Self-Government in Petrozavodsk

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

The Rise and Fall of Local Self-Government in Petrozavodsk

Article excerpt

The results of the unified national election day, held on September 8, 2013, were unusual for two regional capitals.1 Yevgenii Roizman, the candidate of the Civic Platform party won the mayoral election in Yekaterinburg, the capital of the Sverdlovsk Region, and Galina Shirshina, an independent candidate supported by the Yabloko party, won the mayoral election in Petrozavodsk, the capital of the Republic of Karelia. The nominees of United Russia, the pro-presidential party, lost the elections in both cities. Soon after their victories, Roizman and Shirshina found themselves under considerable political pressure. Since then, the former has retained his mayoral position, while the latter is no longer mayor of Petrozavodsk.

Shirshina was forced out at the end of 2015 thanks to a decision backed by more than two thirds of the Petrozavodsk city councilors.

Shirshina's recall was preceded by the replacement of direct mayoral elections in Petrozavodsk with the procedure of appointing a city manager, chosen by the City Council from nominees put forward by the competition committee, half the members of which were appointed by Karelia's governor. Thus, the political autonomy of local self-government in the capital of Karelia, which had been among the most democratic regions of Russia,2 reached its lowest level3 just two years after the election of an opposition mayor.

What was the causal mechanism which led to the Petrozavodsk mayor being recalled and the significant reduction in the autonomy of local self-government in the city? The answer to this question has some theoretical implications. First, the description of the causal mechanism that preceded the Petrozavodsk mayoral recall sheds light on how local political processes develop under the electoral authoritarianism typical of present-day Russia.4 Second, as direct elections for the Petrozavodsk mayor were eliminated five months prior to Shirshina's recall, this paper checks hypotheses which interpret the abolition of local elections as a result of the senior authorities' unwillingness and/or inability to control local political elites5 and the latter's lack of political autonomy.6

The article proceeds in the following way. The next section contains a literature review. The methodology and data collection methods used in the paper are then discussed, along with the causal mechanisms under investigation. In the empirical part of the paper, two alternative causal mechanisms that could have led to the recall of the Petrozavodsk mayor are analyzed, before conclusions are drawn in the final section.

Russia's Mayors under Electoral Authoritarianism

The recall of popularly elected mayors by city councils is common practice in present-day Russia. The legal mechanisms for this procedure were introduced to Russian legislation in May 2009 when then-president Dmitrii Medvedev initiated amendments to the Federal Law "On the General Principles of Local Self-Government in the Russian Federation" (hereafter, the Law on Local Self-Government). These provisions allow city councils to get rid of the directly elected mayors under "vaguely defined official malfeasance."7 It also became possible for regional governors to push forward the process of recalling directly elected mayors. According to data provided by Moses,8 between February 2010 and November 2013, 51 mayors, including 26 regional capital mayors, were dismissed.

At the same time, there is a lack of studies explaining the causal mechanisms for this. Researchers have been more concerned about the related issue of why passing the Law on Local Self-Government resulted in the abolition of direct mayoral elections and their replacement with city-manager governance in several Russian cities while bringing about no changes in others.9 The general answer to this question, if the focus is on procedural rather than structural causes, is that the local elites' lack of political salience10 and/or the political disloyalty of mayors,11 served as the key factors, provoked by the elimination of direct mayoral elections. …

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