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MOSCOW, June 13 (Itar-Tass) - The All-Russia People’s Front Vladimir Putin created in 2011 on the eve of the parliamentary and presidential elections as a coalition of social and political forces supporting him has been converted into a public movement, called People’s Front - for Russia. Its organizers hope that it will consolidate society and establish a dialogue with the authorities. The front’s constituent congress on Tuesday elected its leadership, adopted a charter and set some ambitious goals. Putin himself became the leader of the new movement to have declared it was a supra-party resource.
Some experts have already compared Putin with General Charles de Gaulle and started asking questions about the future of the ruling United Russia party in this context. Dmitry Medvedev, an ex-president and current prime minister, took over United Russia in 2011. Many suspect that United Russia is doomed.
Putin told the All-Russia People’s Front (ONF) that the front’s mission would be to give a chance to each person sharing common values to participate in building new Russia. He pointed out that the ONF’s task was to prevent important decisions from being bogged in the swamp of bureaucracy and to make proposals and participate in elections. “It is the people’s right to demand and to make the authorities at all levels - from the head of state to the head of a municipality - feel and know what the people want.”
All those who took the floor at the congress, and Putin himself, pointed out the supra-party status of the movement. “The values that keep us together are above political likes and dislikes and interests of individual groups and, naturally, they are above personal ambitions,” Putin said.
According to the Charter, the front’s goal is “promotion of unity and civil solidarity in the name of Russia’s historical success,” the country’s development as a free, strong and sovereign state with a robust economy, fast economic growth and reliance on the family.
The front has opened itself to individual members who share its priorities: honesty, commitment to justice and care of making Russia stronger. The ONF congress adopted the front’s rules. State Duma Deputy speaker Lyudmila Shvetsova expressed their gist in the following way: “We are not a party. We do not establish membership rules. We establish the institution of participation. A large number of considerate and caring people have become participants in our movement.”
On the list of the ONF founders there are 480 people, including trade union activists, workers, scientists, culture workers, athletes, businessmen, farm and medical workers and politicians, of course. Although the movement was proclaimed as a supra-party one, most of the commanding posts went to representatives of political circles. The ONF headquarters incorporate many prominent figures, who offered Putin their support during his election campaign, representatives of different public movements, as well as parties United Russia, Rodina (Motherland) and the Patriots of Russia.
Experts have rated the president’s strategic move highly, but their opinion of the ONF’s and United Russia’s future are varied.
“There is emerging a far more respectable structure than one might have expected,” the daily Vedomosti quotes political scientist Yevgeny Minchenko as saying. Its composition and ideological diversity are pre-requisites of greater flexibility. “Putin has the freedom of maneuver and an opportunity to address different social groups, if need be. Not necessarily conservatively-minded ones.”
“Amid negative trends in the public mind it looks like the Kremlin’s attempt to freeze the situation - to draw closer all active and ambitious public figures prepared to compromise,” says political scientist Vyacheslav Igrunov.
“This idea is doomed to success,” the daily Kommersant quotes Olga Kryshtanovskaya, an expert in the studies of Russia’s elites, as saying. “There is a medical doctor, a sailor, a teacher, and a factory worker. How can one disrespect a good doctor? Plus there is all the very best borrowed from the Soviet past. There is no ideology, consequently, there is no enemy. This type of organization will be unsinkable. All this will help the president stay above the fight.” Kryshtanovskaya is certain, though, that sooner or later the ONF will become a political party.
“Whatever may be said now, it is pretty obvious that this construct is a political substitute for or addendum to United Russia,” the daily Novyie Izvestia quotes lawyer Sergei Davidis as saying. “In the context of the current legislation, which prohibits election blocks and makes political parties the sole actors of the political process, it is impossible technologically to make the People’s Front a full-fledged alternative to United Russia.
“The idea of the front is clear - creation of a wide patriotic majority, by and large loyal to the existing authorities,” the general director of the Center for Current Politics, Sergei Mikheyev, said on the Russian News Service radio station. “One of its tasks is to narrow the gap between the people and the authorities, which is an objective reality and which
United Russia has failed to eliminate.”
He says the ONF had been conceived as “some sort of an alternative social lift for people who are unable to walk up the career ladder in politics, or through United Russia structures, although they are very remarkable and promising personalities.”
“Naturally, in the wake of the institutional formalization of the ONF one cannot but start asking questions about the future of United Russia,” political scientist Andranik Migranian told the daily Izvestia. “Clearly, United Russia had no chance of becoming the basis of Putin’s new presidency. There must be an impeccable basis. In the meantime, certain groups of the population look at United Russia with suspicion.” The analyst believes that with time United Russia will be diluted in the People’s Front.
“If Vladimir Putin has put his stake on the People’s Front unambiguously - this will sooner or later torpedo United Russia as a major political force in principle,” political scientist Boris Mezhuyev said with certainty.
In the meantime, ordinary Russians still know very little about the new organization. According to a recent VTSIOM poll, 43% have heard nothing about the People’s Front, and 49% percent heard something, but are ignorant of the details. A tiny seven percent said they have a good idea of what the front is all about. Half of the polled are indifferent towards the ONF activities, 29% percent welcome it, and one in ten is critical.