Russia’s very brief experiment with allowing its voters to elect their governors is officially over.
President Vladimir Putin signed a law on Tuesday letting him pick candidates to lead Russia’s regions if local lawmakers scrap popular polls, in what critics called a setback for democracy in the Russian leader’s new term.
The law allows each of the country’s 83 regions to repeal direct elections of governors, introduced just last year in a concession during a wave of protests by Russians fed up with Putin’s dominance and demanding a stronger political voice.
Putin has said the law is needed to protect the rights of minorities in ethnically mixed regions such as the mostly Muslim provinces of the insurgency-plagued North Caucasus.
The Kremlin is concerned that direct elections in the volatile regions could spark unrest or involve candidates whose loyalty is in question. Russia is holding the Winter Olympics next February in Sochi, close to the North Caucasus provinces.
But critics of the president say the law is a rollback in democracy that favors the ruling United Russia party, which is far less popular than Putin himself and had its parliamentary majority sharply reduced in a December 2011 election.
They fear the Kremlin and United Russia will use the measure to sideline opposition candidates in favor of loyal governors.
Vlad was caught putin free speech aside last week, when Twitter agreed to let him censor critics of his rule in Russia.