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Putin Mentioned as Possible Majority Party Leader

The United Russia Party holds a convention this week and is expected to ask outgoing Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin to head the organization, which controls parliament and can check any presidential attempt to remove the prime minister. VOA Moscow Correspondent Peter Fedynsky reports this could be significant when Dmitri Medvedev succeeds Mr. Putin and appoints him as head of government.

A quick ringing of the bell by current United Russia Party leader Boris Gryzlov signaled the beginning of working group discussions of the country's largest political organization.

Gryzlov says ideas expressed in brain-storming sessions will be reviewed by working groups and offered for consideration by the party at its two-day congress.

United Russia is expected to ask outgoing President Vladimir Putin to become its new leader, although he is not now a member of the organization. Independent Moscow political observer Alexander Konovalov told VOA that accepting the position would give Mr. Putin a power base of more than a million party members with which to maintain strong influence in Russian political life.

Konovalov says the outgoing Russian president can use party discipline to demand accountability from the rank and file, which is an instrument of control.

Konovalov notes that United Russia preserves many of the outward trappings of the Soviet Communist Party, which was known in its time as "The Party," and was the only political party allowed in the country. In today's Russia, "The Party," is commonly understood to be the ruling United Russia party, one of four represented in parliament. While it enjoys a veto-proof legislative majority, Alexander Konovalov says United Russia members of are not loyal to the organization.

It's not really a party, says the analyst, but a trade union for bureaucrats who are not bound by a common ideology, but rather a desire to maintain power and stay where they are.

Konovalov says if President Putin had settled on former Senate leader Sergei Mironov to be the next president instead of Dmitri Medvedev, many United Russia members would have left the party en masse to join Mironov's Just Russia Party.

Mr. Medvedev is expected to appoint Vladimir Putin as prime minister soon after presidential power is transferred on May 7. The Russian president has the authority to dismiss the head of government but only with the approval of parliament, which is controlled by United Russia and could soon be headed by Mr. Putin.