Two Russian newspapers, Nezavisimaya gazeta and Moskovsky korrespondent, reported today, March 28, that Vladimir Putin will be named head of United Russia at a party congress that will be held in April.
Noting that Putin used the occasion of a United Russia congress last October to announce that he would head the party’s federal list of candidates in the December 2007 State Duma election, and then used the occasion of a United Russia congress in December to accept Dmitry Medvedev’s invitation to serve as prime minister under a future Medvedev presidency, Nezavisimaya gazeta reported that Putin will use a United Russia congress set for mid-April to announce that he has joined the party as a member, after which he will be elected its head. The newspaper wrote that when President Medvedev presents Putin to the State Duma as his candidate for prime minister, Putin will already be the head of United Russia, which has an absolute majority in the Duma.
According to Nezavisimaya gazeta, the significance of the upcoming United Russia congress was underscored by the fact that, according to an unnamed source “close to” United Russia’s Supreme Council, the Putin administration has taken over the task of “producing” the congress from the party apparatus. “In which connection, the source emphasized, it is a matter of a production in the literal sense. ‘To all appearances, it won’t be a congress, but a genuine spectacular show,’ he noted. Even the names of the notorious moderators who are preparing the party event are being mentioned. They are the Channel One talking head Maxim Shevchenko and theater director Valery Fokin.”
Beyond the theatrics of next month’s United Russia congress, the more significant issue is why Putin might want to join and lead the party. Nezavisimaya gazeta put forward several motives. One is that it excludes the possibility of “any surprises, even the most hypothetical, aimed against the notorious ‘succession’ and capable of violating the previous understandings between the president and his successor,” the newspaper wrote. It quoted several sources as using phrases like “surrounding Medvedev on all sides with a kind of party government.” As Nezavisimaya gazeta noted, according to Russia’s constitution, the State Duma cannot be dissolved in connection with a vote of no-confidence in the government during its first year. That would give a pro-Putin Duma a pretty card to play in convincing President Medvedev not to change his mind and put someone other than Putin forward as prime minister. What is more, as the newspaper noted, the constitution itself cannot be amended without the support of 300 deputies in the State Duma.
Still, Medvedev could nonetheless put forward a candidate other than Putin as prime minister and, according to the constitution, dissolve the Duma if it rejected his candidate three times. However, according to Nezavisimaya gazeta, there is another “serious argument” against dissolving the Duma – the procedure to impeach a president. According to the constitution, the impeachment of a president must be initiated by at least one-third of the deputies in the State Duma and supported by two-thirds of the State Duma deputies and two-thirds of the members of the Federation Council. The Federation Council has three months from the moment that charges are brought against a president by the State Duma to rule on the charges, and during that period the president cannot dissolve the Duma.
In addition to these arguments, making Putin the leader of United Russia would end the “exotic situation” of him being a leader without a party, Nezavisimaya gazeta wrote. While this image was useful during the parliamentary and presidential elections in order to demonstrate his “objective attitudes toward political opponents of the party of power,” that image is no longer needed today.
However, the most important reason for Putin to become the leader of United Russia, according to Nezavisimaya gazeta, is that it is “the only way of transforming a presidential republic into a presidential-parliamentary one” without changing the constitution. “It is the only variant allowing an equitable partnership of the sides in the developing tandem,” the newspaper wrote (Nezavisimaya gazeta, March 28).
As Newsru.com noted, Putin himself dropped a small hint about the possibility of joining United Russia during a press conference following his meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on March 25. Asked about the future configuration of power, Putin said that the powers of the president and the prime minister are sufficient and do not need to be redistributed. “The prime minister can and must rely on the parliamentary majority,” he said. “That construction is very capable of ensuring that the government is effective and responsible to the people who voted for it” (Newsru.com, March 28).