Putin, Medvedev seal power-sharing agreement

Putin Medvedev.jpg

In a choreographed congress of the ruling United Russia party on 24 September, Russia's President Vladimir Medvedev agreed to lead a list of candidates for a parliamentary election on 4 December in view of becoming the next premier, and won a standing ovation for current PM Vladimir Putin by proposing that he run for president in the March 2012 elections.

Under thunderous applause, Putin, 58, "accepted" the proposal by Medvedev to return as president. He could now serve up to two more six-year terms, meaning he could be in power as president until 2024.

For his part, Medvedev, 46, agreed to lead United Russia's list of candidates in a move intended to help the party retain a two-thirds majority in the lower house and prepare him to become premier.

According to analysts, Medvedev has failed to emerge from Putin's shadow since they started sharing power. By contrast, Putin has in more than a decade in power cultivated the image of a vigorous leader and his policies – crushing a Chechen separatist rebellion, taming super-rich businessmen and bringing wayward regions to heel – have buttressed his popularity among Russians.

Putin looks sure to be elected president in March but some Russians regard the proposed job swap by Putin and Medvedev with mistrust, Reuters reported. Some are tired of the two, or a small circle around them, taking key decisions in secret.

Critics say that Putin, who was once a KGB officer in East Germany, is riding roughshod over human rights and democracy, and expanding the power of the security forces.

Many Russians oppose what they see as an abuse of power by the ruling party United Russia. However, a protest demanding the resignation of both Putin and Medvedev, held in Moscow on Sunday, gathered only some 100 people, the local press reported.

Finance minister rebels

Russia's finance minister Alexei Kudrin, a Putin ally with prime ministerial ambitions, said on Sunday he had disagreements with Medvedev and would not work under his authority in the next government.

Setting out his differences with Medvedev over the president's support for an increase in military spending, he said: "I think that the disagreements I have will not allow me to join this government."

Kudrin won the respect of investors as a guardian of financial stability by saving windfall oil revenues for a rainy-day fund which helped Russia through the 2008 global economic crisis.

The Putin-Medvedev tandem is a single force and those who disagree with this approach will leave the team, Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman of Putin said on Sunday

Putin's decision to run is likely to cause some nervousness in the West, where he is considered less liberal than Medvedev and more outspoken in his criticism of Western policies. "There will be a businesslike relationship, but not a warm one," said James Goldgeier, a Russia expert at American University in Washington.

Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed any concerns of economic stagnation or worse relations with the West. "To say that relations with the West will hypothetically get worse under Putin as president is incorrect," he said.

Ukrainian Foundation for Democracy 'People First', a Ukrainian civil society organisation whose mission is to help build democracy in Ukraine, said:

"Medvedev didn't manage (or didn't want) to leave the shade of his “political father”. This was noticeable and clear to citizens of Russia who didn't perceive the current president of the Russian Federation as an independent player and that is why they never doubted who is a real leader of Russia. Numerous sociological researches convincingly testify to it: Medvedev never preceded Putin in popularity and influence ratings. Holding the number one post, he always remained number two in the perception of Russians.

Thus, we can ascertain that the ruling elite of Russia isn't ready yet to initiate reforms "from above", and the civil society hasn't matured to clearly formulate a public demand in terms of changes and to nominate corresponding ideas and leaders - their bearers "from below". Whether such a state of things stays for a long time depends to a large extent on the level of gas prices in the near future or the personal ambitions of the real leader of Russia.

Russia elects a president and the 450-member Duma, one of the chambers of the Federal Assembly. The other chamber, the Federation Council (178 members) has two members for each region, but they are not elected.

Since the fall of the USSR, there have been five elections for both president and parliament. Since Vladimir Putin became president of Russia in 1999, criticism of the conduct of Russian elections has grown.

The last presidential election took place in 2008 and was won by Dmitry Medvedev with 71.25% against 17.96% for Gennady Zyuganov, the candidate of the Communist Party, and 9.48% for Vladimir Zhirinovski of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia.

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