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Kremlin Says Modernization Requires Political Competition

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev says opposition parties and increased political competition can help modernize Russia. He issued the call for reform in a live, nationally-televised meeting of the State Council, in which representatives of small Russian parties condemned media censorship and the ruling United Russia Party.

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev told a Kremlin meeting of various political party leaders and governors that Russia's political system must become more flexible to reflect society's growing diversity. He says that requires cooperation rather than commands.

The Kremlin leader notes that in practice, the country all too often confronts primitive, even stupid administrative methods to address increasingly complex social problems.

The head of A Just Russia Party, Sergei Mironov, warned that alienation on all levels of government is one of Russia's most dangerous threats, which could result in social conflict. Real political competition, says Mironov, would allow for protest within the system, rather than mistrust which characterizes it today.

Mironov says the active participation of citizens in modernization initiated by the president can help ensure its success. He says trust is the specific factor that would guarantee successful government and development in Russia.

The leader of the Yabloko Party, Sergei Mitrokhin, noted that modernization must begin with free media. He also accused the government of monopolizing national media and censoring content.

Society, says Mitrokhin, should be heard. He adds that political forces representing society should conduct a dialogue with the entire country, not just small audiences via the Internet, low-circulation publications, or radio.

Mitrokhin also claimed that the Internet is filled with evidence of election fraud in Russia. The head of the Liberal Democratic Party, nationalist firebrand Vladimir Zhirinovsky challenged the ruling United Russia Party to read online criticism about itself. And co-chairman of the Right Cause Party, Georgiy Bovt, said the Internet could be used to help prevent vote fraud.

President Medvedev has an internet blog and invites Russians to use it. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who heads United Russia without being a member, was dismissive.

The Internet, says Mr. Putin, is 50 percent pornography and asks why it should be relied upon in matters of falsification. Instead, the prime minister said evidence of fraud should be taken to a court, adding that the judicial system must also be strengthened.

Mr. Putin, as party leader and head of government also responded to charges of a United Russia monopoly.

Mr. Putin says if it were true that United Russia holds a monopoly and represents big capital and officialdom, then its members would have acted completely differently during the economic crisis, by freezing pensions and wages, and also lowering taxes, because that is the logic of a market economy. He notes the party's response was exactly opposite and managed to use currency reserves to deliver a modest one percent increase in real incomes under difficult economic circumstances.

President Medvedev concluded the meeting saying he is convinced that a return to the Soviet political system is impossible, not only for economic reasons, but simply because nobody wants it.