By Paul Goble
The vote last week by the city council of Petrozavodsk to fire Galina Shirshina as mayor could be reversed by the courts because the independent mayor enjoys support in Moscow but even if that does not happen, her case is already backfiring on republic head Aleksandr Khudilyanen and United Russia.
That is because the deputies violated the law on removing mayors and because the authorities failed to bring criminal charges against her as they have done in other cases when the powers that be wanted to dispense with an opposition figure, and thus, Shirshina’s case removes the fig leaf of legitimacy for the law the deputies claimed to be using.
In today’s “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” Aleksey Gorbachev and Garmonenko call attention to these risks, ones that they suggest are especially great because the deputies so cavalierly violated the provisions of the 2009 law on removing mayors and because the authorities failed to bring charges against Shirshina (ng.ru/politics/2015-12-28/1_shirshina.html).
Last Friday, the deputies of the Karelian capital’s city council voted overwhelmingly to dismiss the independent mayor. They cited her failure to deal with the city’s problems in the way that they approve even though the 2009 law they invoked says a major can be removed only for complete “non-fulfillment of duties over the course of three or more months.”
Similar political overreaching has occurred in other cases where city councils have sought to remove mayors, but in all other cases, the deputies have supplemented their position by arranging with executive officials to bring criminal charges against their target thus making it more difficult for the individual to appeal.
That did not happen with Shirshina, and now she is preparing to sue to recover her office, according to Yabloko president Emiliya Slabunova, even though the latter says that her party does not have any particular illusions about their ability to achieve success. Nonetheless, she says, “we will try.”
According to Slabunova, the Karelian leadership has “by itself transformed Shirshina into a federation-level politician,” and that means that Shirshina could return “either as a deputy of the State Duma or the Legislative Assembly.” Moreover, experts say, it is not excluded that the courts may restore her to the mayor’s office.
According to the “Nezavisimaya gazeta” journalists, sources in the Presidential Administration have told them that the Kremlin doesn’t have problems with her and has cleared her to serve on committees chaired by Vyacheslav Volodin, the deputy head of the Presidential Administration. The courts could thus find for her without the Kremlin opposing that.
Aleksandr Kobrinsky, a lawyer who serves in St. Petersburg’s legislative assembly, says she has a good case. “From a legal point of view,” he argues, the Petrozavodsk deputies misapplied the law by focusing on what she had done rather than by arguing that she had failed to perform her duties for three months as the law requires.
His argument was echoed by Nikolay Mironov, head of the Moscow Center for Economic and Political Reforms. Mironov added that even if the law’s provisions had been followed, the law itself is anti-constitutional because it allows deputies to remove an elected official for his or her position without consulting the people, who under the Russian Constitution are “the source of power.”