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President Putin to Play Major Role in December Parliamentary Elections


Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose term expires in March, says he will play a major role in parliamentary elections scheduled for early December. In this report from Washington, VOA Senior Correspondent Andre de Nesnera looks at the ramifications of Mr. Putin's announcement.

President Putin told a meeting of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party that he will head the political organization's ticket in December's parliamentary elections. And he hinted that he might accept the post of prime minister, saying that scenario is - in his words - entirely realistic.

Analysts say this is the clearest indication of what political role Mr. Putin would like to have after his presidential mandate expires next March, since the Russian Constitution prohibits him from running for a third consecutive term. The Russian president has consistently said he does not plan to change the constitution to allow him to run for a third term.

Dale Herspring, a Russia expert at Kansas State University, says Mr. Putin is a man with a mission.

"I think what he's become convinced of is that there is nobody else who will be able to keep the place together until it becomes a meaningful, institutionalized, stable system," said Herspring. "And, I think, he's decided, if he goes in the parliament, he also may feel that it's time to make the parliament into something meaningful, and this is one of the ways to do it."

Herspring says Mr. Putin wants to guarantee a sound country politically and economically, and does not want Russia to return to the instability of the Boris Yeltsin years.

"His basic decision when he took over was - 'okay, Boris, you did a great job with the revolution, but now we have anarchy. Now we've got to start putting stability in the system.' And that's what he's been doing, and he has a much more stable Russia than he had in 2000," continued Herspring. "But, I assume that there is probably a question in his mind, whether, if he gets out of there [political life], Russians will start to be anarchists again, and God knows where it'll go."

But analysts say bringing stability to Russia came at a cost. They say, during his years in office, Mr. Putin has centralized power in the presidency, weakened the strength of independent political parties and reined in the national media. He also tightened electoral laws in favor of pro-government parties in advance of the December parliamentary elections and presidential balloting in 2008.

Marshall Goldman, a Russia expert at Harvard University, says at 54, Mr. Putin can still play a significant political role.

"He's clearly too young to be put out to pasture [retire], and he's also clearly too popular with the Russian people with the way he's brought law and order," said Goldman.

Analysts say there is a good chance Mr. Putin will become prime minister, because the United Russia party is the strongest political entity in the Russian parliament. And, they say, with the Russian president heading its list of candidates for the December 2 elections, the party is likely to get more seats in the parliament, or Duma.

Andrew Kuchins, a Russia expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says if Mr. Putin becomes prime minister, that would change Russia's political landscape.

"It would definitely shift the balance of power from the presidency to the prime minister. Now, the 1993 Russian constitution, which is in effect today, still allows for a quite strong presidential system," he said. "So, it's possible that after the Duma elections, perhaps, you could see new legislation, which would de jure give more political authority to the government in the person of the prime minister, who would be nominated, perhaps directly, by the majority party in the parliament."

Experts say, if that happens, Russia will resemble more Germany's parliamentary system, which has a strong prime minister and a president acting as a figurehead.

Analysts also say Mr. Putin could run again for president after serving as prime minister. They say that would once again shift the balance of power in Russia - this time from the government, back to the presidency.

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