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Mayoral Elections Criticized After Arrest

Published: March 2, 2010 (Issue # 1552)



  • Kachanovsky
    Photo: gorodnews.ru

MOSCOW — Smolensk’s mayor was arrested Sunday in an extortion investigation that could fuel calls for the Kremlin to end direct mayoral elections.

Mayors are the most senior local officials still elected to office after the Kremlin abolished gubernatorial elections in 2004, and a number of them have faced criminal charges in recent months amid a drive in certain quarters of the federal government to cancel mayoral elections.

Eduard Kachanovsky, mayor of Smolensk, a city of 325,000 located 360 kilometers west of Moscow, was arrested together with his deputy and his bodyguard on charges of extorting an apartment as a bribe from the head of a construction company in exchange for granting a permit for the apartment building, investigators said.

Kachanovsky faces up to 12 years in prison if convicted of large-scale extortion.

The trio was detained Friday, and a local court sanctioned the arrest of Kachanovsky and his deputy on Sunday, the Smolensk branch of the Investigative Committee said. The bodyguard was released on condition that he not leave the city.

Smolensk regional Governor Sergei Antufyev told reporters Saturday that Kachanovsky’s detention had “seriously damaged” his reputation and that of Smolensk and the surrounding region, Interfax reported.

He called for the abolishment of direct mayoral elections in the region. The governor “must have the power to weigh in on a mayor’s candidacy. Popular elections are a risk,” Antufyev said.

Antufyev said mayors should be replaced with “city managers” proposed by governors and confirmed by city legislatures.

Although mayors are directly elected by their constituents, governors can fire them under new powers granted by President Dmitry Medvedev last May. Medvedev said governors needed to be able to reign in rogue mayors, while critics countered that the Kremlin was trying to remove any possibility of unpredictability from politics.

Antufyev did not say whether he would dismiss Kachanovsky, who was elected last March after refusing to heed a United Russia request to withdraw in favor of its preferred candidate. Kachanovsky is also a member of United Russia.

Kachanovsky’s arrest could be United Russia’s way of teaching him a lesson, said Dmitry Oreshkin, a political analyst with Merkator, a think tank.

United Russia officials and the Smolensk governor’s office could not be immediately reached for comment Sunday.

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