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Russian Lawmakers Back Bill Abolishing Direct Regional Elections

Russian lawmakers gave preliminary approval to a law that would allow governors to be appointed in the country’s 83 regions, reversing last year’s move to restore direct elections.

The bill was approved late yesterday by 403 of the 450 members of the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, in the first of three required readings. Under the measure, President Vladimir Putin will have the right to submit three candidates for approval by the legislature of any province.

Putin abolished direct elections for governors in 2004 as president. Dmitry Medvedev, who served as head of state from 2008 to 2012 after Putin completed the maximum two consecutive terms allowed by the constitution, restored the gubernatorial elections after mass protests over alleged election fraud. Putin, 60, returned to the Kremlin last May after edging aside Medvedev, 47, who now serves as prime minister.

A top official from the ruling United Russia party, Adalbi Shkhagoshev, said the law would allow the mainly Muslim North Caucasus to opt out from direct votes, according to comments published on the party’s website. The impoverished region is plagued by violence blamed on Islamic extremists.

Critics of the law say that it will be used to end elections of all governors.

“Now the authorities can place a cross on gubernatorial elections,” Dmitry Gudkov, an opposition lawmaker, said on his Twitter Inc. account.

Russia’s first gubernatorial elections in eight years were held last October.

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