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© RIA Novosti. Aleksey Nikolskyi

Putin steps down as United Russia head

by Anna Arutunyan at 24/04/2012 19:00

President-elect Vladimir Putin announced Tuesday that he is stepping down from the helm of the ruling United Russia party in favor of his protégé, President Dmitry Medvedev.

The move marks the latest in a string of attempts by Putin to distance himself from a political party that is rapidly loosing support and credibility.

Putin, who has headed the party since he became prime minister in 2008, asked the party’s top brass Tuesday to call a congress in late May to formalize the reshuffle.

Putin said the switch was the “right” move since Medvedev is set to take Putin’s current job as prime minister when he vacates it early next month.

 “We have a practice where the President is a non-party figure,” RIA Novosti quoted Putin as saying. “The Constitution doesn’t forbid the president to be a member of any party, but in the spirit of how our political life has evolved, a president is first and foremost a consolidating figure for all the political forces of the country, for all citizens.”

The party recorded a drastic drop in support in December when it polled just under 50 percent at parliamentary elections, compared to over 60 percent four years earlier, despite wide scale allegations of election fraud.

The fall was in large part a result of a blogger campaign that linked the party to the country’s rampant corruption and renamed it the “Party of Crooks and Thieves.”

Putin, who polled around 64 percent in presidential elections in March, was widely expected to step down from the party ahead of his inauguration on May 4.

“People in the party knew that this was about to happen, it was no secret,” Olga Kryshtanovskaya, a sociologist and a senior member of United Russia, told The Moscow News. “When Putin became the leader of the party, many were against it, believing a [national leader] should be an arbiter, and above all of this.”

When Putin became leader of the party in 2008, the move was seen as an experiment to instate a parliamentary republic in Russia. The decision to switch, with a strong national leader moving from the premier’s seat back to the presidency, indicates that “the elites decided against this parliamentary republic,” Kryshtanovskaya said.

But she added that despite some concern within the party, Medvedev’s leadership will not make the party more economically rightwing. “There will still be a lot of discussion between its patriotic, liberal, and conservative wings,” she said.

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