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Financial Times (UK)
May 17, 2003
Putin backs power shift towards parliament
By Andrew Jack in Moscow

President Vladimir Putin on Friday lent his weight to calls for a shift in power away from the Kremlin towards a parliamentary system of government, during his last state of the nation address ahead of elections in December.

His comments came at the end of his latest annual speech to the country's upper and lower parliamentary chambers in which he called for a doubling of GDP, the over-coming of poverty and modernising Russia's armed forces by 2010.

"Based on the results of the upcoming elections to the state Duma, I believe it will be possible to create a professional and efficient government that will have the support of a parliamentary majority," he said, triggering an outbreak of applause among the 1,000 guests invited to the Kremlin to hear the hour-long speech.

His slightly ambiguous remarks were widely interpreted - and welcomed - by Russian politicians as suggesting that future responsibility for creating the government would be shifted from the president to the parliamentary majority.

That was borne out by comments during the afternoon by Vladislav Surkov, a deputy head of the presidential administration, who told Russian press agencies that such a system could be created after the presidential elections in 2004.

The initiative is a gesture towards United Russia, the pro-Kremlin parliamentary coalition currently struggling to find popular electoral ideas and which itself called for the leading political party to name the future government at its recent congress in Moscow.

It would reflect an electoral strategy focused on distancing responsibility for the government's action from the Kremlin, mirroring the growing gap in opinion polls between Mr Putin's current high ratings and the much lower public assessment of the achievements of the government headed by Mikhail Kasaynov, the prime minister.

United Russia, widely seen as struggling to find a strong campaign theme, has begun to criticise the government as part of its own electoral strategy, despite the fact that its ranks include a number of ministers including its leader Boris Gryzlov, the interior minister.

A stronger parliamentary system would also potentially provide a way for Mr Putin to prolong his own ruling powers beyond the current constitutional two-term, eight-year limit as president, if he were then to be leader of the dominant party in future elections.

During his speech, Mr Putin portrayed a mixed level of achievements over the past three years, and touched on a number of populist themes, stressing the need for Russia to restore its position as a great power, and calling for greater efforts to tackle corruption and bureaucratic inefficiency.

However, he also stressed the importance of the market economy and private property rights. He made no significant new statements on foreign policy, but reiterated his efforts to seek a political resolution to the conflict in Chechnya.

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