President Dmitry Medvedev warned Russia's Kremlin-appointed regional governors on Monday that he is closely watching their approval ratings and hinted they won't last long in the job if they cannot keep people happy.
Medvedev's remarks in an interview with state-run television suggested the Kremlin is determined to avoid any significant rise in voter discontent ahead of parliamentary elections next year and a March 2012 presidential vote.
The warning came two weeks after the Kremlin-controlled ruling party declined to nominate the governor of Kaliningrad region, where a January protest that drew 10,000 people was one of the largest in Russia in years, for a new term.
Medvedev said some governors appeared to have decided that since they are appointed by the president, not popularly elected, they can relax and not talk to the people -- or if they talk, then rarely.
But this is wrong, Medvedev said. Regional leaders have to work with the people, and for this reason I long ago instructed the presidential administration to keep track of the ratings of governors.
Of course there is no direct mechanism here -- 'Your rating has fallen, goodbye' -- but it is cause for a governor to think about what's happening and how satisfied the people are with his actions, Medvedev said.
He said poll ratings were a very important factor in decisions on whether or not to keep incumbents governors in place when their terms expire.
Medvedev's predecessor, Vladimir Putin, abolished popular elections of governors, part of a series of moves that increased Kremlin control over Russia's political system during his eight-year presidency.
Putin steered Medvedev into the presidency in 2008 and is now prime minister. Putin is seen as Russia's paramount leader and has made clear he is considering a presidential run in 2012.
(Editing by Ralph Boulton)