What's behind Putin's drive for a 'unified civil front' in Russia
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin called for merger of political parties and social groups. Some observers say it's a bid to boost poll numbers, while others see it as throwback to Soviet-era engineering.
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Some say it may be a deeper attempt to reengineer society. "This reminds of Mussolini's idea of corporatism, of bringing all social forces under the control of one man," says Andrei Kolesnikov, opinion editor of the opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta. "It has these disturbing connotations, though I think it's just a scheme to help win elections, and it will fall apart after that. At least I hope so."Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Soviet propaganda posters
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Experts differ over how seriously the drop in Putin's personal approval rating might affect his own chances of winning the upcoming presidential polls, should he choose to run. According an April survey by the independent Public Opinion Fund, Putin remains Russia's single most popular leader – as he has been for more than a decade – with 53 percent public support, down from 69 percent in January 2010.
Growing Putin-Medvedev divide
The same poll shows that popularity for Putin's only conceivable rival for the endorsement of the Kremlin establishment, President Dmitry Medvedev, has fallen further during the same period, from 62 percent to just 46 percent last month.
Strains have appeared in the previously amicable "tandem" arrangement under which Mr. Medvedev and Putin have ruled Russia for the past 3 years, leading to speculation that Medvedev might break openly with his former patron and even, perhaps, challenge him in a real election.
But under the political system of "managed democracy" built by Putin, that seems unlikely to happen.
Over the past several years, Russian elections have been tightly stage-managed affairs. They include barring troublesome opposition contenders from the ballot, concentrating state resources – including media access – on the preferred United Russia candidate, and, it has been frequently alleged, fixing final vote tallies on election night to ensure that candidate's decisive victory.
But sharply rising food and energy prices, combined with what some experts describe as public frustration at being repeatedly manipulated, may have planted doubt in the minds of Kremlin strategists that the system will continue to work through the next crucial round of elections.
IN PICTURES: Soviet propaganda posters
"There is a feeling that something needs to be done to make United Russia more attractive," says Valeria Kasamara, head of political studies at the independent National Research University in Moscow. "The party has become tedious to people, and it looks like a collection of rogues and thieves. Young people are especially turned off. United Russia has no clear ideas, no positive ideology that it stands for. It's just the party of a single strong leader."
Ms. Kasamara says the united civic front will likely come into existence if Putin wills it to, but it might not save United Russia from humiliation in December's Duma elections.
"Nobody wants this artificially forced unity, and what's the use of a political coalition that simply stands for all things good and against all things bad in general, without having any specific ideas to promote?" she says. "Russians are ready for something better."