YEKATERINBURG/MOSCOW (Reuters) - Lawmakers in Russia’s fourth largest city Yekaterinburg voted to scrap direct mayoral elections on Tuesday, curtailing the political prospects of the incumbent who has been fiercely critical of the Kremlin and local authorities.
Opposition politician Yevgeny Roizman unexpectedly won the mayoral race in 2013, narrowly edging out the candidate of the ruling United Russia Party and gaining a measure of control over the city around 1,500 km (900 miles) east of Moscow.
Roizman has since been critical of President Vladimir Putin and the pro-Kremlin governor of the Sverdlovsk region, in which Yekaterinburg lies. They mayor has also expressed support for opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was barred from running in last month’s Russian presidential election which Putin won.
On Tuesday, lawmakers in Yekaterinburg - a manufacturing center of almost 1.5 million people - voted by 42-4 to abolish direct elections. In future, the city’s mayor will be chosen by local lawmakers from a shortlist drawn up by a special commission.
The idea of scrapping direct elections was proposed by Sverdlovsk region governor Yevgeny Kuivashev. His allies had argued that doing away with elections would save money and streamline decision-making.
Just under 2,000 people held a rally on Monday, demanding that direct elections be kept and that the governor resign.
Roizman, whose five-year term ends in September, told lawmakers on Tuesday that the elections were the only chance for Yekaterinburg residents to take part in its political life and that stripping them of the right to elect a mayor was an insult to their intellectual capabilities.
Opposition leader Navalny said the outcome of the vote ran counter to what people wanted.
“Forty-two deputies have demonstratively spat not only on the thousands of people who turned up at the rally, but also on the majority who have told every opinion poll that the mayor must be chosen via direct voting,” Navalny wrote on social media.
Less than 10 Russian cities still have direct mayoral elections with the rest using an appointment system.
The Kremlin declined to comment on Yekaterinburg’s decision, saying it was purely a matter for local lawmakers.
Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by David Stamp