How does abolishing the direct election of regional governors affect the prospects for democratization in semi-authoritarian federations? This dissertation project assesses the implications for democracy and accountability of political centralization, more specifically the elimination of direct elections of governors. The analysis is situated in the 89 regions of the Russian Federation. I explore the factors that explain the wide variation among regions in terms of political competition through on-site research in five provinces and the federal center. The project also calls for compiling an original dataset with measures of the contestation present in all units of the federation in order to test the applicability of the argument. While it has become conventional wisdom to consider abolishing elections at any level of government a step away from democracy, I argue that important exceptions to the general logic exist. The new policy of central appointment may have the unintended consequence of increasing accountability to the regional electorate by opening up previously unavailable avenues of influence via the federal center. Paradoxically, the elimination of regional elections may have the unintended consequence of producing a political opening and improving the prospects for further liberalization. This counter-intuitive scenario unfolds when the center uproots a consolidated hegemonic regional regime founded upon a collusive relationship between the executive and the local business elite. Through this project I aim to specify the exact conditions under which this sequence of events unfolds. I will also explore the factors that lead to a diametrically opposite outcome: the further retrenchment of semi-dictatorial regional regimes. Quantitative analysis will offer an insight as to the general patterns of contestation across the entire federation.