President to lead United Russia party list in Duma poll
The United Russia party has a huge majority in the current Parliament, holding 305 of the 450 seats. It has recruited many celebrities, but its main advocate beats them all. Vladimir Putin’s appearance at the convention was met with a standing ovation.
It is the only party to secure the backing of the President. In 2001 Mr Putin was among the founders of United Russia and his face appeared in the party’s campaign, while his ideas make up the core of its programme.
“United Russia has always supported the President and all his initiatives. We’ve also coordinated all our law-making activities with him. So his decision to top the party’s electoral list is quite logical. Not for nothing is our programme’s name ‘Putin’s plan – Russia’s victory’,” commented Boris Gryzlov, United Russia party leader.
There’s only one thing missing – the President is not a member of the party, at least not yet.
Meanwhile, the President states the party’s strategy is the collective work of a large number of people and not his personal achievement.
“You have tied your party’s strategy to the name of the acting President and your humble servant. The logic of election campaigning may support this move. But in this case I doubt it needed such 'personification'. Especially since its author is not somebody in particular, but a large number of people. In its essence, it is a result of the collective work of the Government, by regional and local authorities, by the Central Bank and by both chambers of the Russian Parliament,” he noted.
When asked whether he would be prepared to become Prime Minister in the future, Vladimir Putin did not rule out the possibility.
“The idea that I might head the Government is quite realistic but it is too early to think about this, because at least two conditions are necessary for this. Firstly, the United Russia party must win the election to the State Duma on December 2 this year. And secondly, an honest, capable, efficient and modern person needs to be elected President – the kind of person I could work together,” he said.
With nearly 80 per cent of Russians approving of Putin’s work as President, there have been many calls for him to run for a third term, but that would require changing the constitution, which the President has ruled out.
“Although I'm one of the initiators in creating United Russia, I – like the overwhelming majority of this country – am not a member of any party and I would not like to change this status. The changes needed to be made to the constitution are not appropriate,” Mr Putin claimed.
The economic achievements of recent years were acknowledged. In his speech to delegates Vladimir Putin declared the growth of income and social issues improvements are the results of the national projects.
“Our economy has grown by 60% over the past seven years. The real income – I stress it, real income – of our citizens has more then doubled in this time. We have made the first and most urgent steps in terms of healthcare and education. Positive trends can be seen in the demographic situation. These achievements were made thanks to the national projects we've developed and implemented,” Mr Putin said.
The President also touched on the tricky issue of links between big business and politics.
“I've mentioned before that money and power should exist separately. Representatives of major businesses are no doubt well respected people. A lot of things in the country and in the economy depend on them. Of course they're capable of contributing to the party, not only financially but ideologically also, but is it really necessary for them to be on party lists? Do they need to be involved in major business and at the same time have the privilege of a State Duma Deputy's immunity?”
The next congress of United Russia will be held after December's parliamentary elections.
At that conference the party’s candidate for the presidential election in 2008 will be named.
Some of Russia's leading politicians have been giving their reactions to President Putin's recent statements.
Deputy PM Aleksandr Zhukov considers Mr Putin’s step will consolidate democracy in Russia.
“I welcome Putin's decision. I think it’s a step towards democracy. The government will be formed by election. As head of the government Putin will be able to substantially improve its image,” he commented.
Nevertheless, Konstantin Kosachev, the Head of the State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee, believes that Mr Putin’s final decision will depend on the results of the parliamentary and presidential elections in Russia.
“My opinion is that the President himself has not taken this decision yet, because it depends on the parliamentary election and on what the outcome of the presidential election is.
I do believe that for Mr Putin, who is a very responsible politician, the personality of the next Russian President will be important as well as how great the support for the coming government from the majority in the Russian parliament will be. So this decision has not been taken yet and will not be taken until after the presidential election. My personal opinion is that Mr Putin is a very efficient politician and he is really needed for our country, in any capacity,” he explained.
Chechnya’s President Ramzan Kadyrov was among the few who didn’t like the idea of Putin as Prime Minister but for different reasons: “I don’t the see the President as the second man. I think he should be number one. He has built up a new Russian state from nothing. He improved its image. I see him the as a life-long president,” he said.
Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov says President Putin's decision to head the election list of the United Russia party is a step towards developing the Russian political system: “Basically, the decision Putin made will produce a two-party system in Russia, with United Russia led by Putin on the right and us on the left, together with our allies.”
Mr Zyuganov also believes the President has now additional responsibility for the fairness of the December parliamentary elections.
“In my opinion, the majority of votes will go to the United Russia party. And the fact that Russia's President has joined the party may strengthen its positions even more, but not necessarily. The voter's reasoning is not easy to predict. It could have a negative effect. I would even say it’s un-ethical. And I don't think it was a spontaneous decision. As for how the situation will pan out, I don’t know. I think it’s very unpredictable,”Viktor Gerashenko from the Other Russia Coalition commented.
While the news is expected to boost United Russia’s ratings ahead of the December elections, analysts say it may be a blow to other parties in the running.
Aleksey Pushkov, Professor of Diplomacy and International Studies at MGIMO University, claims President Putin’s statement and agreement to be at the top of the United Russia electoral list will influence the electoral position of the party greatly and it may get a constitutional majority in the next Duma.
“I think it will influence the electoral position of the party very much and decisively. I mean of course United Russia was the leader going into the forthcoming election and it was clear they would get about 40-45% of the vote, which would almost give them a majority in the State Duma. But with Mr Putin heading United Russia I think they may well get a constitutional majority, which means over 310 seats. In that case United Russia would become a sort of ruling party in the full sense of the word. They can change the constitution, they can adopt whatever laws they want,” Mr Pushkov believes.
Doctor Ariel Cohen, Senior Research Fellow at the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies in Washington DC, says that Vladimir Putin is going to play a key role in Russian politics for the foreseeable future as he is too young and too vigorous to just retire.
“I think Mr Putin is indicating that he is going to be Prime Minister. I also believe at this point – of course a lot of things can change between now and March – I believe that Mr Zubkov, the Prime Minister, is the front runner to be the President,” he said.
Professor Charles Kupchan, Director of European Studies at the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations, suggests President Putin’s announcement on the possibility of his becoming Prime Minister is another step in a long series of measures that he is taking to prepare for a smooth transition of power following the Duma and presidential elections.
“It appears that it is part of a strategy to ensure that he remains the power-broker, the kingmaker, in the sense that Zubkov is a figure without his own large and powerful electoral base. Should he become President, that means that he would not have a great deal of support, a great deal of independent political authority,” Mr Kupchan commented.
RT’s political commentator Peter Lavelle believes the next Russian President will have a tough job with Mr Putin leading the Government:
“Whoever the successor is going to be, it will be, say, worrisome for him – that such a powerful and popular man as Vladimir Putin is going to be working for him. He will be very mindful of his moral and political authority. It’s not necessarily bad – we’ll see what happens,” Mr Lavelle said.