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Russia's 'Party of Power' Gropes for New Image
Alexey Eremenko - RIA Novosti - 4.2.12 - JRL 2012-61

The party that has dominated Russia's political landscape under Vladimir Putin for a decade is in disarray following a stunning nosedive in its popularity this winter and is scrambling to "reinvent" itself to cope with fierce future competition, analysts and party officials said. "United Russia has no chance of remaining unchanged," said pundit and party supporter Sergei Markov, who was a member of United Russia's faction in the previous State Duma.

As outgoing President Dmitry Medvedev is preparing to sign into law a bill expected to result in creation of many new parties, the incumbent "party of power" is looking to both clarify and diversify its ideological stance to retain slipping public support, United Russia officials said.

In a clear indication of the looming crisis, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who heads United Russia without being a card-carrying member, refused to use it as a vehicle for his own successful presidential campaign earlier this year.

The point was driven home by mayoral elections in regional capital Yaroslavl on Sunday, when an independent backed by several opposition parties soundly trounced a United Russia candidate, winning almost 70 percent of the vote. At its peak, the party controlled all regional legislatures and capitals nationwide.

United Russia will discuss the revamp at a snap party congress, expected to take place in late May or June, senior party official Sergei Neverov was quoted by the Kommersant daily on Monday. He did not rule out that Putin will give up party leadership.

Party apparatchiks are currently locked in a turf war over whether to keep it as one entity or split it, said a political analyst who worked for United Russia. He asked not to be identified to avoid problems with party officials.

Liberal Conservative Patriots

Markov denied a possible split, saying that the plan is instead to create within United Russia three clear-cut ideological factions, including a liberal, a leftist and a patriotic one

"We're discussing how to improve," Andrei Ilnitsky, the founder of a liberal club within United Russia, told Lenta.ru in an interview last week. He did not elaborate, but noted that neither the liberals nor the left currently have a proper representation in Russian party politics.

United Russia needs a more flexible and diversified ideology, with main platforms to be defined at a referendum within the party, Deputy Duma Speaker Oleg Morozov, a party member, said on Monday.

Since its inception in 2001, United Russia promoted a vaguely conservative ideology, but focused primarily on rubberstamping Kremlin- and government-backed bills despite their ideological content. This had mixed results, allowing for both relatively quick recovery from the 2008 economic recession and introduction of laws curtailing civil and political freedoms.

The party needs to move to the right, targeting the middle class while opposing the worldwide trend toward leftist politics, senior United Russia official Vladimir Pligin, another member of the liberal club, said last week.

Putin's own policies, however, have been leaning toward the left lately, with additional social spending that he promised during the presidential campaign amounting to at least 5.1 trillion rubles ($170 billion), according to estimates by Sberbank analysts.

"The split looks like a dead end," said Yevgeny Minchenko of the Institute for Political Expertise think-tank. "Their core ideology is love of the