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Putin Named Party Chairman

at 17/04/2008 22:44

The ninth congress of the United Russia party ended on Tuesday with a unanimous vote in favor of appointing President Vladimir Putin the party chairman. The Russian media called the move an "expected surprise" and another step in making Putin a "national leader" - a concept voiced by United Russia in the 2007 parliamentary elections.

Putin accepted the offer to head United Russia, but stressed that this will happen only after his successor, Dmitry Medvedev, is sworn in and Putin himself steps down. Putin also said he will not join the party even after he becomes its leader.

Putin's attitude to membership in the United Russia is not news - the Russian leader has repeatedly said he was not going to join any political movement, even the United Russia party, which has based its entire political platform on supporting the so-called "Putin's plan" - a carefully constructed program for guaranteeing Russia's independence and social programs.

Until recently Russian legislation had forbidden top government officials from taking posts in any political movements. This law was scrapped in 2004, but its effects seem to linger - officials still rarely speak of their support of any parties. Medvedev addressed the United Russia congress on Tuesday and also said that he was not going to join the party.

After Vladimir Putin announced his support of Dmitry Medvedev's presidential candidacy, the latter said that after becoming president he would appoint Putin as the prime minister. After Putin confirmed that he accepted the offer, his political future has become almost certain - some observers have even predicted the date of the possible appointment to be May 8. This is the day after Medvedev's inauguration, yet one day before the Victory Day parade on Red Square. The appointment would allow Putin and Medvedev to together watch the parade, which will feature tanks, missiles and combat aircraft for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union .

However, Putin's reluctance to join the ranks of United Russia still remains a question. The Moscow News asked the director of the Political Research Institute Sergei Markov to comment on the situation. Markov said that the answer was simple enough. "When he [Putin] be­comes a member of a political party he must obey the party discipline and he will remain a pure party leader. Here, he will simultaneously get the control over such mechanism as United Russia, which controls the parliamentary majority and on which his government is based. Thus he will not have to conform to party discipline and thus retain his potential."

Markov added that while this wasn't an ideal solution, a better decision would not have been possible under the circumstances. According to Markov, Putin is a strong supporter of partisanship in the political life of the country, but would likely join a party only after real competition enters the presidential elections. "The role of a real party isn't when there is only one strong party... there must be two or three strong parties and they must compete," Markov said. 

The expert went on to say that he expected some changes on the Russian political scene in the near future. "I personally think it is possible that he becomes a party member after the party undergoes a serious change and becomes a party of technocrats that will lead the technological revolution in Russia." Another option, according to Markov, was for Putin head a wide political coalition that will unite United Russia with other public groups.

In his speech before the United Russia congress, Vladimir Putin himself said that the party must undergo some sort of cleansing, and its ranks must shrink. Commenting on Putin's words, Markov said that United Russia must "get rid of the ballast" and of the people who had come to politics "to make money for themselves."

By Kirill Bessonov

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