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Editorial Cartoon: Peace in Gaza
Editorial Cartoon: Peace in Gaza
Published April 19, 2024

Putin will take party reins next month

Putin will take control of the United Russia Party after stepping down as president.

.MOSCOW (AP) – Vladimir Putin agreed Tuesday to take command of the United Russia Party when he steps down as president, enhancing the power he will wield as prime minister and bolstering his platform for a potential return to the Kremlin.

At a party congress that mixed promises of a bright future with traditions from the communist era, more than 550 delegates unanimously approved Putin as chairman of Russia’s most powerful political faction.

Speaking just three weeks before he will cede the presidency to his hand-picked successor, Dmitry Medvedev, Putin said the move would help ensure that Russia’s political bosses and bureaucrats functioned as a “single organism” for the good of the people.

“Today even more than before, we need the consolidation of political forces and the spiritual unity of our people,” he told the congress in an exhibition center off Red Square.

Putin cast the move as a step toward European-style democracy, saying that for the head of a party to be prime minister is “a civilized, natural, traditional practice for democratic states.”

But the analogy was not precise because in Russia, the prime minister is appointed by the president, unlike the European parliamentary democracy system in which the chairman of the leading party is generally chosen as premier.

Critics dismissed Putin’s argument as a bid to lend legitimacy to a process engineered from the top down, saying it was more like a step backward toward Soviet times, when the Communist Party had no rival and its chief was the supreme leader.

Some analysts called Putin’s decision the strategic maneuver of a control-minded leader determined to head off potential challenges, and said it would undermine Medvedev by boosting the authority of Putin and parliament.

In terms of imagery, Putin eclipsed Medvedev at the congress, staying firmly in the spotlight in his final weeks of an eight-year presidency marked by carefully choreographed events that have helped enhance his popularity.

Putin sat flanked by Medvedev and United Russia leader Boris Gryzlov, who will continue to run the party’s day-to-day affairs when Putin becomes chairman May 7, the day Medvedev takes the oath of office.

In words that recalled the Soviet-era party congresses that drew delegates from all walks of life, Putin said his audience included “scientists and engineers, doctors and teachers, businessmen and workers, artists and journalists, servicemen and builders, fishermen and agricultural workers, pensioners and youth.”

Medvedev turned down an offer of membership in the party, which would have made him – awkwardly – subordinate to Putin in its ranks.

Putin has never been a member of the party, instead cultivating the image of a czar-like figure who is above party politics – which many Russians see as a corrupt, crass business.

His acceptance as party leader marks “a serious shift in the whole political system,” said Nikolai Petrov, an analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Center, according to the newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta. It means “switching the reins from the Kremlin to the prime minister,” he was quoted as saying.

In less than an hour, Tuesday’s proceedings capped a year of maneuvering by Putin to maintain power after he leaves the presidency. Constitutionally barred from seeking a third straight term, he anointed Medvedev as his favored successor and announced he would become prime minister.

Putin has promised not to shift any presidential powers to the prime minister, who is a distant No. 2 under the constitution. But he has made no secret of his plans to use the State Duma, or lower house of parliament, to ensure that his will is carried out.

He was elected chairman of United Russia for a four-year term, giving him a parliamentary power base and a potential springboard for a return to the Kremlin in 2012, when he can legally seek a third term.

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