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Nothing is written in stone, Putin says

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12:05 03.12.2007
text: Gazeta.kz
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Vladimir Putin addressed the nation yesterday, speaking not as President but as a party leader. He focused on Russia’s achievements compared to the 1990s and urged Russians to vote for United Russia in Sunday’s vote. Putin did not mention the new structure of power, but his statement contained some clues, experts say, reports RBC Daily.

In an emotional speech, Putin reiterated his upbeat view on Russia’s economic and political situation: “The Economy is growing steadily, and poverty is retreating, though slowly. We will continue our fight against corruption and terrorism.” “The authorities still owe a lot to Russian citizens,” he said, at the same time noting that much had already been done compared to the 1990s, a period described by Putin as “times of humiliation, dependence and collapse.” He said that those who had failed to rule the country should not be able to come back into power.

In order to ensure the continuity of power, the President called on all Russians to go to the polls on December 2 and vote for United Russia. The results of the Sunday polls would set the tone for the presidential election in March 2008, Putin stressed.

“You should not think that election results are a foregone conclusion. This is a dangerous illusion,” he warned. This warning, which he also made at a forum of Putin supporters last week, contains an apparent contradiction. It is not quite clear what threatens Putin’s plan if it suits all, and if there is no real alternative to Putin’s course.

Communists are not happy with Putin’s line. “To say that today’s course is the only right one, and to link it with the government’s obligations to its citizens, it looks like blackmail,” Ivan Melnikov, Deputy Chairman of the Communist Party’s Central Committee, said yesterday. “We agree that those who ruled the country in the 1990s should not return to power. But these people have not disappeared, they are all within the ruling elite now,” he noted.

Putin announced parliamentary and presidential elections as “a complete replacement of the supreme legislative and executive power”, but the replacement principle is not quite clear. Dmitry Badovsky, Deputy Director of Moscow State University’s Social Systems Institute, says the rotation will affect governors responsible for failed election campaigns and members of federal clans who will be too active after December 2, when the list of Putin’s successors will be outlined.

Meanwhile, analysts are skeptical, saying that the replacement campaign will not inject fresh blood into Russia’s ruling elite. Those who played key roles in the 1990s, remain in power, leaving little chance to their younger colleagues.

Far from persuading voters to support the party of power, Putin’s “poor vocabulary” only highlights the party’s growing anxiety, and the President’s appeal to citizens will not affect the alignment of forces, Melnikov reckons.

But it could help boost turnover. According to Mikhail Vinogradov, General Director of the Center for Current Politics in Russia, Putin “is gently intimidating voters in order to mobilize the population for the vote.” This sheds some light onto Russia’s new structure of power: the more voters support United Russia, the more justified Putin’s position of power will be after he steps down as President. “If the winner of presidential elections in March gets fewer votes than United Russia in December, Putin will be able to remain in politics,” Vinogradov told RBC Daily.