MOSCOW (Reuters) - Moscow needs more open government to combat corruption and bureaucracy, new mayor Sergei Sobyanin said Thursday as the longtime lieutenant of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was formally approved by the city council.
The council, dominated by Putin’s ruling United Russia party, confirmed Sobyanin by a 32-2 vote to replace Yuri Luzhkov, who had held office for 18 years but was sacked by President Dmitry Medvedev last month after an escalating feud.
Sobyanin takes over a city of 10.5 million that is a showcase of Russia’s progress and its problems two decades after the Soviet Union’s collapse -- a gleaming reflection of the oil-fueled boom that has fed both economic growth and corruption.
In remarks to the council ahead of a vote whose outcome was never in doubt, Sobyanin vowed to tackle the corruption, excessive bureaucracy and mismanagement he said had undermined Moscow’s post-Soviet revival.
”The city has changed for the better and taken its rightful place as a leading global megapolis,“ Sobyanin said. ”But in recent years it is clear that many opportunities have been missed. The pace of development has gradually slowed.
“I am deeply convinced that corruption and bureaucracy threaten to devalue many if not all of Moscow’s competitive advantages,” Sobyanin, who was to be sworn in later Thursday, said in a hearing televised from the small chamber.
“It is obvious that the city needs a more open and effective system of management.”
Sobyanin, 52, became Kremlin chief of staff in 2005, when Putin was president, and stayed with Putin when he became prime minister after steering Medvedev into the presidency in 2008.
Analysts say the choice strengthens the Kremlin’s control over Moscow, which accounts for a quarter of Russia’s $1.2 trillion economy, and plays into the hands of Putin, who has hinted he may return to the presidency in a 2012 election.
It also sets up Sobyanin as a potential Putin-backed candidate for the presidency in the future, vastly raising the profile of a figure who is seen as secretive and said little in public before he was picked to be mayor.
With United Russia eager for an overwhelming victory in national parliamentary elections in late 2011, Sobyanin will be under pressure to produce tangible progress in solving Moscow’s most glaring problems, such as its monumental traffic jams.
Confirmed after a cold, hard rain slowed traffic and made the morning commute even worse for Muscovites than usual, he vowed steps to ease “the most visible imbalance in the city’s development --the crisis in the transport system.”
He said he would maintain or raise the relatively high pensions and other benefits Muscovites enjoy, but promised to review city spending and wrestle with a Byzantine system of bureaucratic hurdles he said had discouraged development under Luzhkov.
Luzhkov’s dismissal prompted a hail of criticism from former allies of the longtime mayor.
But the head of the three-member Communist Party faction in the city council, Andrei Klychkov, said United Russia -- of which Luzhkov was a leading member until his ouster -- was to blame for the city’s problems.
“It is precisely the course on which United Russia is leading the country that has turned Moscow from a city in which the whole nation took pride ... into a barely liveable place,” he said, announcing the Communists would vote against Sobyanin.
United Russia holds the other 32 seats in the 35-member city legislature.
Additional reporting by Alexei Anishchuk; Editing by Mark Trevelyan