Russian lower house backs bill to allow Putin to pick candidates to lead regions

Thu Jan 24, 2013 1:56am EST
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By Maria Tsvetkova

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia's parliament has given preliminary backing to a bill that would enable the country's 83 regions to scrap popular elections of their leaders in favor of a system that would let President Vladimir Putin choose candidates instead.

Opponents said the bill, approved in a 403-10 vote late on Wednesday after the first of three readings in the lower house would be a step backwards for democracy in Putin's new term. The lower house is dominated by Putin's United Russia party.

Putin scrapped popular elections of regional governors as part of a drive to tighten his grip on the political system in his initial 2000-2008 presidency.

The elections were reintroduced last year amid a wave of opposition protests that drew tens of thousands of Russians tired of Putin's dominance and eager for a stronger political voice.

Critics of Putin say the rules favor United Russia as it is, and its candidates won all five governorships at stake in elections last October.

The proposed law would allow each region to abandon direct elections and put in place a system under which Putin would name three candidates and the regional legislature would elect one of them as governor.

Backers of the bill suggest it is mainly intended as a means to scrap popular elections in regions with ethnically mixed populations, such as the mostly Muslim provinces of the insurgency-plagued North Caucasus.

The Kremlin is concerned that votes in those regions could involve candidates whose loyalty is in question or spark unrest.   Continued...

Russian President Vladimir Putin (C) arrives at the town of Krymsk in the Krasnodar region January 11, 2013. REUTERS/Mikhail Klimentyev/RIA Novosti/Pool