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Europe

Russian people need more power, Putin says

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2012-02-06

In an apparent response to recent protests, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin acknowledged in an article published Monday that Russia must “renew the mechanisms of its democracy”, but added it could not copy a foreign model.

REUTERS - Russia must give its people more political power but should not hastily follow foreign recipes for democracy, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said in an article published on Monday, a month before a presidential election he is expected to win.

Facing the biggest opposition protests of his 12-year rule as he prepares to return to the Kremlin, Putin acknowledged in a front-page article in the daily Kommersant that many Russians want a stronger voice.

But he announced no new electoral reform initiatives, signaling he intends to move cautiously in a six-year term and keep a firm grip on the political system he has dominated since he was first elected president in 2000.

"Our society today is completely different than it was at the start of the 2000s. Many people are becoming wealthier, better educated and more demanding," Putin wrote, taking credit for economic improvements since he came to power.

"Our civil society has become incomparably more mature, active and responsible," the former KGB spy wrote. "We need to renew the mechanisms of our democracy - they need to catch up to growing public activity."

However, he added: "Real democracy is not created in an instant and cannot be copied from an external model."

He made no mention of a street protest movement that erupted in December and showed its staying power on Saturday, when tens of thousands of people marched in central Moscow behind a banner reading "Russia Without Putin!"

The protests were fueled by suspicions of fraud on behalf of Putin's ruling party in a Dec. 4 parliamentary election.

They have also been an outlet for anger over the plan Putin revealed last September to switch jobs this year with President Dmitry Medvedev, which deepened resentment among Russians who believe formal elections give them little real say in politics.

Putin was obliged by the constitution to step aside in 2008 after two consecutive presidential terms, but is permitted to run again this year. Medvedev, his hand-picked successor as president for years ago, is expected to replace him as premier.

Since the protests began, Putin and Medvedev have promised to allow more political parties and to reinstate popular elections for Russia's regional leaders. During his presidency, Putin made the provincial bosses presidential appointees.

Putin said the president would retain "instruments of control" over the regional election process. He has rejected the protesters' demands for a rerun of the parliamentary election, which handed his party a majority, albeit smaller than before.

Limits of democracy

He invoked Russia of the 1990s to warn against rapid reforms, saying "under the flag of democracy's enthronement what we got was not a modern state but an under-the-carpet battle between clans and a proliferation of semi-feudal fiefdoms."

He quoted a Russian philosopher as saying: "People often think the declaration of all kinds of freedoms and universal electoral rights has in itself some miraculous power to put life on a new path. In reality, what usually comes to life in such cases turns out to be not democracy but rather, depending on how events develop, either oligarchy or anarchy."

The most specific measure he proposed in the article - the latest in a series Putin has written as a presidential campaign tool - would be to require parliament to discuss initiatives backed by at least 100,000 people in Internet petitions.

Such a move would be a gesture to the tech-savvy middle-class Russians most eager for change, and could also allow Putin to show popular support for policies he favours.

Opinion polls indicate Putin is all but certain to win the presidency despite the protests and a decline in popularity from previous highs. His United Russia party still holds the simple majority needed to pass most laws in parliament.

Sunday's opposition protest faced a rival pro-Putin demonstration that also drew tens of thousands of people.

The pro-Putin rally was dogged by accusations that state employees were ordered or paid to go, but Putin on Sunday held up the crowd size - which he said Moscow mayor had told him was 190,000 - as evidence that he has majority support.

His spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the turnout suggested Putin was likely to win the election outright on March 4, avoiding a runoff by receiving more than 50 percent of the votes cast, the Interfax news agency reported.

Also running are rich businessman Mikhail Prokhorov, and perennial candidates Communist Gennady Zyuganov and nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

Date created : 2012-02-06

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