Putin's campaign team to be modeled on Popular Front

Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has suggested modeling his presidential campaign team on the Popular Front movement, and has invited a well-known film director, Stanislav Govorukhin, to head it.

“I would like your most humble servant's campaign staff not to be some kind of a technologically administrative structure, but rather be of an open nature,” Putin said on Thursday at a meeting of the Popular Front co-ordination council.

Govorukhin accepted the Prime Minister's invitation.

"Of course, this is a great honor and a huge responsibility," he said in response to Putin's proposal, cites Interfax. "I will engage in this activity wholeheartedly," he said.

Putin – the founder and the leader of the Popular Front – underlined that the movement is beyond any parties and unites a range of people with a variety of political views who share the same goal – to develop Russia.

He said it was important that his campaign staff should include prominent figures who are trusted by the public.

The meeting comes only four days after the parliamentary elections, which brought the United Russia party – also led by Vladimir Putin – victory, and a majority of seats in the State Duma.

Speaking at the meeting, Putin refused to address the controversy around the December 4 vote and only briefly touched upon the election results which returned the United Russia faction to the Duma with 50 % of the seats. A quarter of the party's representatives in the parliament will be nonpartisan members of the Popular Front.

Putin called on non-party members not to give their seats in the lower house to candidates from United Russia, despite pressure to do so.

"We see what is happening in certain regions, where so-called party functionaries did not make it [to parliament] but representatives of the Popular Front did. Pressure is now being brought to bear to persuade them to hand over their mandates in favor of United Russia representatives," he said.

Putin added that he has “very tender feelings toward” the party that he once established. “But I urge you and candidates who entered [the Duma] based on the party lists not to yield to such pressure and not to give up their mandates," he said.

Putin stressed that those who won in an honest and open competition should work in the Duma and added that the debate on the matter should be regarded closed.

The Prime Minister's press-secretary, Dmitry Peskov, told Itar-Tass that Putin's statement did not mean he was distancing himself from United Russia. What the party chairman wants is to bring order to the situation and the whole idea of United Russia's renewal was to get rid of such “ugly” manifestations. Peskov insisted that Putin “was and remains the leader of United Russia.”

Speaking at the Popular Front meeting, Putin also said that Russian citizens have a constitutional right to protest. “As for the street democracy events, my attitude is the following: if the people are acting within the framework of the law, they must be given the right to express their opinion and we should not limit anyone in these civil rights. If someone breaks the law, the power and law enforcement bodies must demand with all lawful means that the law is observed,” the Prime Minister said.

Putin also said that anti-election activists in Russia acted after a prompt from the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, who criticized the Duma elections at the OSCE session on Tuesday.“I watched the first reaction of our American colleagues. The first thing the Secretary of State did was to give an assessment of the elections, saying that they were unjust and unfair even though she did not have any materials from the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. She also gave a tune-in for some activists in our country and she gave them a signal. They heard the signal and started to take action with the support of the US State Department.”

Putin also suggested tougher punishment for those who influence Russian politics on orders from abroad. “We must protect our sovereignty and we should think about improving the laws around toughening penalties for those who execute the tasks of a foreign state to influence our internal political processes,” he said.

Several thousand people took into the streets in Moscow and other major cities on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to protest against alleged violations of Sunday’s parliamentary elections. Police have detained over a hundred protesters on each day of these large and unprecedented protests.