Archive for May, 2011

24
May
11

Many questions about Putin’s proposal for “unified civil front”

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has observers scratching their heads over his dramatic appeal to build a “unified civil front” of political parties and social groups to confront an unspecified national dilemma.

The idea sounds baffling since Russia, despite its various issues, does not appear to face a looming crisis that would justify putting aside political differences for the common good. Some experts scoff that the unmentioned emergency is Mr. Putin’s own poll numbers.

Putin, who is widely suspected to be eyeing a return to the presidency, saw his numbers plunge in recent polls and rating for the party he leads, United Russia, also dropped. RELATED: Putin’s marquee moments.

But a few critics warn darkly that Putin may be seeking to reshape Russian political culture into one of forced social unity similar to the former Soviet system, in which all of civil society – including media, trade unions, the church, youth, women’s groups, even sports clubs – were held in captive orbits around the all-powerful ruling party.

“I propose the creation of something that in practical politics is called a unified civil front, an organization to unify the efforts of various political forces ahead of major events of political character,” Putin told a conference of United Russia in the central Russian city of Volgograd last Friday.

‘Fresh ideas, fresh proposals’

The front should recruit into its ranks all organizations and people “who are united by the idea to strengthen our country and by the wish to search for the most optimal ways of solving current problems,” he added. Putin spent much of the long weekend (Monday was Victory Day, a major holiday in Russia) meeting with business and social leaders to test the idea, which would include opening up as much as a third of United Russia’s candidate lists to nonparty members affiliated with the new front.

“United Russia needs an inflow of fresh ideas, fresh proposals, and fresh faces,” he told journalists. Sign up for our daily World Editor’s Picks newsletter. Our best stories, in your inbox. United Russia, the state-backed political behemoth whose membership is packed with officials, has given Putin near undisputed control over most legislatures in Russia for nearly a decade, including a two-thirds majority in the Duma.

But lately its public approval rating has slumped dramatically. The party, which won 67 percent in 2007 Duma elections, was supported by just 43 percent of Russians, according to an April survey by the independent Public Opinion Fund (FOM).

“Putin [who leads United Russia] aims to secure his own position in case of a poor showing by the party in the coming Duma elections,” says Nikolai Petrov, an expert with the Carnegie Center in Moscow. “The idea is to add some fresh faces, so that the candidate list doesn’t just consist of the same old dull bureaucrats and corrupt officials. It’s just an electoral scheme.”

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17
May
11

Politics: what is Prokhorov’s game plan?

Is Mikhail Prokhorov defying Vladim Putin’s authority by entering politics? Since Khodorkovsky’s indictment something was clear in Russia: oligarchs make business and Putin makes politics… A new deal in Russian balance of powers?

Mr Prokhorov wants to lead the Pravoye Dyelo party, or Right Cause.

He owns much of Russia’s gold and nickel production, with other interests as diverse as nanotechnology, a hybrid car and the New Jersey Nets basketball club.

The last oligarch to turn politician, Mikhail Khodorkovksy, ended up in prison.

Mr Prokhorov made his money in the chaotic years of Russian privatisation during the 1990s.

His fortune is reportedly worth $22.7bn (£14bn), which puts him among the top three Russian billionaires.

Now he is diversifying beyond business.

Prostitutes allegation

The Right Cause party he has offered to lead strongly supports President Dmitry Medvedev, at a time when there’s mounting speculation that Vladimir Putin wants a return to the presidency.

It was founded just two years ago as a pro-business party promoting free-market reforms, the rule of law and an end to what it calls the “arbitrary rule of corrupt officialdom”.

Mr Prokhorov’s declared aims would be to lead Right Cause to second place in parliamentary elections coming up in December, behind the United Russia party, whose chairman is Vladimir Putin.

United Russia is expected to win the parliamentary elections comfortably, but they are widely seen as a dress rehearsal for the presidential election in March.

Both Prime Minister Putin and President Medvedev are potential contenders for the presidency next time around.

If Mr Prokhorov succeeds in taking over as leader of Right Cause, it will be the first time a Russian business tycoon has taken a prominent role in politics since the imprisonment in 2003 of Mr Khodorkovsky, then head of the Yukos oil giant.

Mr Khodorkovsky’s supporters have always insisted this was punishment for daring to oppose Mr Putin.

Based on his statement today, Mikhail Prokhorov appears to be taking care to avoid posturing as a defiant opponent of the Kremlin.

Right Cause has so far struggled to attract heavyweight leaders in its ranks. Liberals have kept their distance from it, seeing it as too close to the government.

Mr Prokhorov’s business empire is based on the Onexim Group, which has wide variety of interests, with gold and nickel at their core.

In January 2007, he was arrested on suspicion of arranging prostitutes for guests at a party he hosted in the French Alpine resort of Courchevel.

The case was later dismissed, and Mr Prokhorov was cleared