Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Window on Eurasia: ‘Polpreds’ Set up at District Level in Tomsk to Back the Party of Power

Paul Goble

Vienna, July 14 – A new chapter in the history of political representatives, known in Russian as “polpredy” and most familiar in recent years as the designation of the presidential representations in the eight federal districts, has opened in Tomsk where the oblast governor has established them at the regional level.
According to a lead article in today’s “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” the oblast Governor Viktor Kress has taken this step nominally in the name of being responsive to “the interests of the population” but in fact to ensure that United Russia will do better in the upcoming elections in the districts than it has done recently elsewhere (
That seems especially likely, the Moscow newspaper says, because it is difficult to square such a decision “with the initiatives of the president of the country concerning the reduction in the number of bureaucrats by 20 percent.” When it comes to electoral outcomes, “the bureaucrats do not plan to economize.”
A few days ago, the paper notes, “Kress declared that if United Russia does not receive a majority of votes in the Tomsk Duma, ‘the residents will suffer colossal financial losses,’ and the governor himself will not be able to ‘resolve in Moscow questions which the voters of Tomsk oblast have raised.”
Tomsk oblast is not the only place where such institutions have arisen in recent time. They were set up in Krasnoyarsk kray two years ago. When a new governor arrived there, he asked about eliminating this new level of bureaucracy but was dissuaded from doing so because of upcoming elections.
Polpredy also exist in Transbaikal kray, where there are 16 of them; in Murmansk oblast, where there are six; and in Chelyabinsk oblast, where several have been named and now effectively serve in place of city leaders. Indeed, “Nezavisimaya gazeta” says that it is understandable that regional leaders would copy “federal models.”
But the federal model they are copying has outlived its purposes, the daily’s editors say. Except for the newly created North Caucasus Federal District, the others are now headed by people who, a Yandex search will show, are more engaged in ceremonial activities than in constructive work.
And that makes the decision of regional leaders to take this step especially problematic because in the future it could lead to a situation in which governors would have “their own representatives in cities, villages, rural settlements, and [even] farms. Bureaucrats, as is well known, have a tendency to multiply themselves.”
Up to now, “Nezavisimaya gazeta” notes, “not one has noted yet this tendency.” But that may change because the latest polpredy appointments clearly are not about administration at all but rather about elections and guaranteeing victory for the candidates of the party of power, United Russia. Clearly, they are not concerned about “the success of the others.”
Since 1917, Soviet and Russian officials have used polpredy to cope with two phenomenon, the enormous distances within the country that have made communication difficult and the weakness of one or another level of power and the consequent need for beefing it up by providing special support.
The latest development appears to reflect a conjunction of both these issues. Governors of some of the largest federal subjects often lack the time and ability to deal with matters in all of the locations under their control and thus, when there are elections, discover that they and their party are less popular than they imagined.
And the party of power, United Russia, for all its strength over all, is not so strong that opposition groups cannot win against it at the local and regional level. Consequently, representatives of that party in Moscow and in the regions have decided to use part of the state structure to promote that party, however illegal and unconstitutional that may be.

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