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Putin’s All-Russia People’s Front may replace ruling party

April 04, 2012, 17:14 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

The All-Russia People’s Front, created in the run-up to the elections at the initiative of Vladimir Putin, may push the United Russia party, losing its positions in society, into the background, or replace it altogether, analysts say in the wake of Tuesday’s meeting the president-elect held with the members of the ARPF’s Coordinating Council.

Putin suggested registering the ARPF as a public movement, whose mission would be to carry out “popular control,” and gave his preliminary consent to lead it himself. Putin, who remains the leader of United Russia, insists on preserving the supra-party status of the ARPF looks determined to preserve the unity of the United Russia faction, in which 70 ARPF members are involved.

Later, Putin’s press-secretary Dmitry Peskov explained that the status of the ARPF’s leader as a non-governmental organization would not prevent Putin from retaining his position of United Russia’s leader.

Putin’s decision to lend the ARPF a political status will be a turning point for the political system, which developed fundamental changes over the past six months, says the daily Kommersant. On New Year’s Eve the Kremlin declared the restoration of direct elections of governors and simpler rules of registering political parties after the returns from the State Duma elections triggered massive protest rallies in big cities, and the ruling party, whose list was led by President Dmitry Medvedev, failed to collect as many votes as it had hoped for. Putin emerged the winner in the presidential election, but for that he had to distance himself from United Russia in public space and to form his election teams under the slogan of support from the ARPF.

The Kremlin has the understanding the existing party system fails to meet society’s expectations and is no longer a sufficient instrument of control, says the periodical. “The parties have failed to rise to the occasion. Apart from the CPRF no party is the decisive motive in casting ballots. This is the peculiar feature of our voter,” a source in the presidential staff said.

“If the party is placed in Dmitry Medvedev’s hands, people will start fleeing,” fears a source in United Russia, adding that at the end of May or early June the question of the party’s leadership will be decided at a congress.

Political scientist Mikhail Vinogradov believes that the ARPF and United Russia will be able to co-exist. “This is plain juggling with formats, but there still is no final understanding of the situation. For the time being both scenarios – the ARPF and United Russia – will proceed in parallel,” he said.

However, an expert at the INDEM foundation, Yuri Korgunyuk, believes that a different scenario will be more likely – transformation of the ARPF into a non-governmental organization will be the first step towards registering the ARPF as a party, which eventually will substitute for United Russia. “This is the first step towards ditching United Russia. The odds are a decision has been made to drop it altogether,” the analyst told the online periodical “It will stay in action for a while, because, naturally, there are its factions in all legislatures, in the State Duma, and in the regional assemblies, but in principle a decision has been made to keep it away from future elections. It is quite clear that United Russia no longer works and that something else is necessary to take its place.”

Political scientist Dmitry Orlov is quoted by the daily Izvestia as saying that the ARPF may prove a means of communication with the Opposition. “The ARPF will retain the role of a vacuum cleaner. It will perform the function of extra electoral mobilization, of involving in the authorities’ orbit of influence various organizations and structures, including oppositional ones,” the analyst explained.

“It is crucial for the authorities to save the ARPF, because United Russia these days feels not as good as it felt four years ago,” says the daily Vedomosti. “The loss of the mayoral elections in Togliatti and Yaroslavl and the scandalous election in Astrakhan indicate that candidates from United Russia have a major negative rating. The talk about rebranding the party has been underway for a while already, but it looks like no final decision has been made yet.”

The existence of the Front will allow the authorities to make other maneuvers, the periodical believes. For instance, it may give birth to another party, a left-of-center one, under Putin’s leadership, while right-of-center United Russia will be given away to Medvedev.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta does not rule out a variety of options. For instance, in view of Medvedev’s clear intention to stay in power it is not ruled out that a two-party system may emerge in Russia at some future date. United Russia would be led by the outgoing president and a future prime minister. And President Putin will take over the other party – ruling party number one.

Observers have long noticed that Putin has become ever more frequently mentioned in the ARPF context, and ever less often, next to United Russia, says the daily Trud. That followed a number of other fundamental setbacks the ruling party had suffered lately. United Russia took the latest heavy punch in Yaroslavl, where the oppositional candidate emerged the winner. There have been hushed whispers that the days of United Russia are numbered and the country’s top officials will be gradually distancing themselves from it.

MOSCOW, April 4