Vedomosti on November 12 quoted State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov, head of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, as saying that President Vladimir Putin will be presented with his official Central Election Commission (CEC) card identifying him as a candidate in the December 2 State Duma election at an event to be held later this month. “It has been carefully thought through and will be ceremonial,” the newspaper quoted Gryzlov as saying of the planned event.
On October 1, Putin announced he would lead United Russia’s ticket for the State Duma election, adding that the possibility of him becoming prime minister was “entirely realistic” although it was “still too early to think about it.” On October 2, a United Russia congress nominated Putin as the only leader on the roster, abandoning the practice of having three candidates top the federal party list (RIA-Novosti, October 2). Kommersant reported late last month that the CEC had officially registered United Russia for the December 2 State Duma election and issued a candidate’s card to Putin. According to the newspaper, CEC Chairman Vladimir Churov gave Putin’s card to Vyacheslav Volodin, secretary of the presidium of United Russia’s general council. Volodin, in turn, said he would hand it over to Gryzlov (Kommersant, October 27).
Vedomosti quoted an anonymous member of United Russia’s general council as saying that Putin will receive his parliamentary candidate’s card at a ceremony organized by United Russia and scheduled for November 21 at Moscow’s Luzhniki Sports Palace, where Putin will give a speech and a concert will be held for an audience expected to number 12,000. Citing two unnamed United Russia sources, Vedomosti reported that during the November 21 event, Putin will be asked to become United Russia’s leader.
The Vedomosti report comes amid a flurry of ostensibly spontaneous “grassroots” events around Russia aimed at securing Putin’s continued role as national leader after his second and final constitutionally mandated president term ends next year. Rallies calling for Putin to remain president were held last month and earlier this month in Volgograd, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatski, Chechnya, Tver, Magadan, Pskov, Khanty-Mansiisk, Saratov, Novosibirsk, Yakutsk, Rostov-on-Don, Chita, Kaliningrad, and Yekaterinburg, among other cities and regions. As the weekly Itogi reported, most of these demonstrations adopted resolutions proposing the establishment of a public movement called Za Putina – For Putin. While the rallies were ostensibly organized by local groups and regional and United Russia claimed they had nothing to do with them, “There are mountains of evidence indicating a very thin line between voluntary and compulsory attendance,” Itogi reported (Itogi, November 5-11). One of the founders of Za Putina, the prominent lawyer and media personality Pavel Astakhov, said on November 9 that dozens of the regional political groups calling for Putin to stay on after his second term finishes next year are planning to meet in Tver on November 15 to unite into a national movement (Moscow Times, November 12).
In contrast, an article posted on United Russia’s website on November 6 and written by Abdul-Khakim Sultygov, the party’s coordinator for national policy who once served as Putin’s special representative for human rights in Chechnya, said that after the December’s parliamentary and next March’s presidential elections, Russia should hold a special Civic Assembly (Grazhdansky Sobor) to adopt a Civic Unity Pact “formalizing the institution of national leader as the foundation of the ‘new configuration of government’.” Sultygov explicitly compared this proposed Civic Assembly to the Zemsky Sobor – Assembly of the Land –at which Mikhail Romanov was elected czar in 1613, ending the Time of Troubles. Sultygov claimed the initiative is being elaborated by a working group of the presidium of United Russia’s general council for the elaboration of proposals in the sphere of nationalities policy and inter-confessional dialogue (Er.ru, November 6). Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied any involvement of the presidential administration in Sultygov’s plan, calling it Sultygov’s “personal idea.” However, United Russia leader Boris Gryzlov, while not referring to Sultygov’s article, reiterated that Putin’s “role as leader” will be guaranteed by United Russia and its “parliamentary majority” after he steps down as president next year (Moscow Times, November 8; Rossiiskaya gazeta, October 17).
Meanwhile, some observers continue to insist that Putin will be able to become president again next year without changing the constitution, essentially by exploiting loopholes. “The first step is abdicating [his] presidential powers as incompatible with his mandate as a State Duma deputy, which he will receive in the [parliamentary] election,” Alexander Shokhin, president of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs and former deputy prime minister, told Itogi. “Unlike in 1999, when Yeltsin on his own initiative left office before the end of his term in favor of a ‘successor,’ here the abdication of powers takes place in accordance with the demands of the law, which does not permit these posts to be combined. In [Putin’s] work record card there appears an entry about a new workplace – a deputy of the State Duma. Step two: the party [United Russia] puts forward its leader Vladimir Putin as a candidate for president. This can be done if regular elections have already been announced (I stress ‘regular’ [elections], not connected to the pre-term cessation of powers of a sitting president) but the official decision about this [the elections] has not yet been published. I remind you that five days are given for this to be published. Next, the Central Election Committee registers the candidate.”
Shokhin conceded that this would probably be challenged in the Constitutional Court as violating the constitutional prohibition on more than two consecutive presidential terms. But he added: “The fact is that in the Constitution, the idea of a ‘third term’ is not explained. It says there: ‘One and the same person cannot occupy the post of President of the Russian Federation more than two terms in row.’ But a situation can arise in which a former president runs in an election. At the moment of its [the election’s] announcement, he’s already a [State Duma] deputy” (Itogi, November 12; see also EDM, October 3).