MOSCOW, March 25 (RIA Novosti)
Russian Legislature Approves Law Bringing Back Gubernatorial Appointments
The State Duma endorsed a law on Friday by 305 votes to 145, enabling the constituent entities of the Russian Federation to make the transition from direct elections of governors to their appointment by local legislatures upon the recommendation of the president.
The Federation Council is likely to approve the law on Wednesday, March 27, after which it will be sent to the president for signing. It will come into force from the date of its publication.
This will signal to the regions that they are free to give up direct elections of governors in favor of an arrangement under which the parliamentary parties will each present to the president a maximum of three candidates for governor. At his own discretion, he will reduce the total number to three and introduce the candidates to a local legislature for it to elect their regional head. This plan involves mandatory consultations with the president.
As for senators, each candidate for governor in regions that are about to renounce direct elections will have to advise legislators on three of their own candidates for the Federation Council. The three will be chosen from municipal or regional deputies, as well as from local State Duma deputies. This means that the current incumbents will not be automatically reelected.
For the regions to use the new format, local legislations will have to be amended before May 31, when the election campaign for universal voting day, September 8, gets underway. It is expected that Ingushetia and Dagestan are likely to be the first beneficiaries, to be followed by Karachayevo-Circassia, Chechnya, and, ostensibly, North Ossetia.
A Communist Party spokesman, Vadim Solovyov, went on record as saying that his party would introduce amendments granting the right to direct elections to all regions of Russia except the North Caucasus republics, for whom a 10-year delay would be proposed. If the amendments are turned down, the party will appeal to the Constitutional Court, he said.
An ex-judge of the Constitutional Court, Tamara Morshchakova, commented by saying that the new law contained clauses that could be challenged. For example, Article 5 of the Constitution says that the constituent entities of the Russian Federation are equal in terms of relations with the federal authorities. She also stressed that “international legal custom prescribes that the level of democratic development achieved in a country should not be reduced.”
Less Than Half of Russians Have Bank Accounts
Only 45.6 percent of Russians have bank accounts, according to a study commissioned by Western Union. Experts believe this is due to low financial literacy and lack of confidence in the national banking system.
According to the study, banking services are underdeveloped in southern regions, where only one-third of respondents said that they had an account with a Russian bank. At the same time, in the Urals and Siberia, the proportion of people with bank accounts is higher than in central Russia. In fact in the Urals region there are more people with bank accounts (50.6 percent) than without. Even in Moscow, one of the biggest cities in Europe, only 65 percent have bank accounts.
Although the majority of Russians have not yet embraced banking services, the most popular way of sending money is by bank card transfer, used by 39.4 percent of Russians over the past two years, according to Western Union, one of the leaders in the international money transfer services market.
At the same time, the majority of transfers, 89.4 percent, were performed within Russia, which contradicts the stereotype that most money transfers are carried out by foreign nationals working in Russia.
Most Russians who use money transfer services do so monthly (28.6 percent), for the purpose of supporting their relatives (27.6 percent). This coordinates with statistics that show a growing number of people migrating within Russia – an increase of 24.6 percent, year on year, from January-November 2012.
The second most popular reason for money transfers is making a gift, said Alexandru Badulescu, Western Union regional vice president in Eastern Europe and the CIS. Other reasons are emergency financial aid, payments and shopping.
The fact that half of the country’s population is not covered by banking services stems from poor financial awareness and a general mistrust of banks after many lost their savings in the 1990s, according to Kristina Volchkova, head of retail and corporate business development at Strategy Bank.
“Most individual accounts are bank cards issued as part of salary plans,” she said. “Nearly all of these services are imposed by employers.”
The Urals region is one of the largest federal taxpayers, said Andrei Loginov, head of the retail product department at M Bank, commenting on the Western Union study. As for Siberia, many of its residents have family and business contacts with neighboring Kazakhstan, a country with a fairly well-developed banking system, he added.
“These factors have a positive influence on the penetration of banking services,” he said.
As for southern Russia and the North Caucasus, people there prefer to use cash or payment systems that do not require opening an account, Volchkova said.
The situation across Russia is largely due to the substantial share of cash settlements in the economy, said Maxim Yegunov, deputy chairman of the management board at SMP Bank. The government is working on a series of initiatives to reduce it. One of them is a Finance Ministry-sponsored bill restricting the availability of products and services for cash payment.
Physical Fitness, the Latest Soviet Trend
The Russian government is tending toward nostalgia nowadays. Those in authority often refer back to their Soviet childhood for a new – or old but long-forgotten – idea.
The bureaucratic time machine has already brought us a single, approved history textbook, a centrally planned economy, compulsory treatment for alcoholism, flights to the moon, new industrialization and a voluntary people’s patrol. Now what about that national physical training test?
First Igor Slyunyayev, the Regional Development Minister, and then later President Putin proposed a national physical fitness test similar to the Ready for Labor and Defense of the USSR program (GTO). The education ministry then suggested that a new GTO test score could theoretically be counted in university entrance scores, thus emphasizing achievements not usually recognized during the admissions procedure.
Officials could be forced to swim between two waters by pursuing the Slyunyayev/Putin plan on the one hand, and by trying not to overstress sports on the other hand. Requiring a chemistry or math student to excel in sports might be too much to expect.
Even in Soviet times, physical fitness wasn’t crucial for gaining a university place. Extracurricular sports leagues and physical fitness classes are part of education everywhere, but physical fitness is not a prerequisite for admission at most universities. Talented athletes may have an edge over other applicants but mostly because university sports teams need them, not because of some criteria imposed from above.
Parents want their children to be strong and healthy, and children like to compete. Increasing middle-class salaries and creating more affordable sports facilities would probably be more conducive to physical fitness and a healthy lifestyle than government mandated rules.
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