Local elections are former governors’ gateway to the upper house of the parliament.

Their terms of governorship expiring in 2010, nearly 30 soon to be former regional leaders seek future employment. The Federation Council remains their best option but getting there may turn out to be problematic. As of 2011, seats on the upper house of the parliament will only be available to winners in local elections. The hunting season is already open. Yamal-Nenets Governor Yuri Neyelov aspires to a modest but extremely promising position of a member of the municipal council of Salekhard.

Twenty-six regional leaders are slated to step down next year. In theory, each and every one of them may regard himself a potential candidate for the Federation Council. At the very least, the latest developments allow them to count on it. The powers-that-be are quite willing to make regional ex-leaders Federation Council members. Three former governors became Federation Council members since December – Vladimir Kulakov of Voronezh, Yegor Stroyev of Orel, and Nikolai Shaklein of Kirov. During Vladimir Putin’s presidency, however, only five regional leaders had made the upper house of the parliament – Mikhail Nikolayev of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), Alexander Dzasokhov of North Ossetia, Nikolai Kondratenko of Krasnodar, Konstantin Titov of Samara, and Victor Maslov of Smolensk.

It is going to change for the retiring governors soon. Under the new legislation coming into force on January 1, 2011, candidates for the Federation Council should pass the filter of regional or municipal elections first. Some governors are already making preparations. Neyelov for one is on top of the United Russia ticket in election of the Salekhard municipal council. Also importantly, the ruling party’s federal leadership seems to have no objections.

As a matter of fact, Neyelov is going to become the first regional leader running in a municipal election. On the other hand, his situation is not exactly ordinary. Neyelov’s term of office expires in March 2010. His contacts in Moscow informed the governor that the federal center had misgivings about reappointing him. “The impression is that Neyelov is acting on the old better-safe-than-sorry premise,” a source told this newspaper. “He aspires to the status of a municipal council member now. After all, election of the regional legislature will take place at the time of his resignation which makes this particular campaign out of his reach. Mandate of a Salekhard legislator in the meantime may become his gateway to the Federation Council.”

Yuri Luzhkov in Moscow is another potential candidate for the upper house of the parliament. His name is on top of United Russia’s ticket in the capital which will be electing its legislature soon.

As matters stand, there has been a loophole in the Duma elections since 2007, the so called postponed mandate invented precisely for famous functionaries running for the federal legislature on party tickets. Ensuring triumph of the party (or at least the expected performance), these people immediately resign as lawmakers right at the moment of election and resume their previous functions. And yet, the loophole actually enables them to remain on the ticket and retain the mandate – just in case the circumstances unexpectedly demand their return to the Duma.

Russian regions have never practiced it yet, and now seems to be as good a moment as any to start. Andrei Gibert, Chairman of the Yamal-Nenets District Electoral Commission, told this newspaper that the law permitted the same practice at regional and even municipal levels. In other words, the acting legislation permits the regional leader elected into the local legislature to keep his mandate of a lawmaker and reanimate it whenever necessary.

Rostislav Turovsky of the Department of Regional Studies (Political Techniques Center) suggested that Neyelov was being cautious. “His chances to be appointed again are quite fine, I’d say. He is a fairly strong regional leader. Anyway, I suspect that he knows what he is doing. Neyelov probably has reasons to believe that Gazprom might decide that it wants its protege as the governor.” Turovsky surmised that Neyelov was going to the Federation Council to occupy some commanding height in it. “Governors will start vying for commanding heights within the upper house of the parliament after that,” the political scientist said.

Yevgeny Minchenko, Director of the International Institute of Political Expertise, thought that transfer of ex-governors to the Federation Council en masse was quite possible indeed. “That’s logical, you know. Four governors were sacked on February 17 and two of them (Stroyev and Kulakov) became senators. Shaklein, Kirov governor until last December, was put on the Federation Council too. It might become a standard practice, you know.”