Kremlin promises far-reaching Russian reform
www.telegraph.co.uk, 22nd December 2011 13:35
By Andrew Osborn in Moscow
The Kremlin has moved to defuse the biggest threat to its power base in more than a decade by promising far-reaching reform of Russia's authoritarian political system.
Dmitry Medvedev, the outgoing president, said the Kremlin had noticed that parts of society were "extremely unhappy" about a fraud-marred parliamentary election earlier this month which sparked the biggest protest against the authorities since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union.
"I want to say that I hear those who talk about the need for change and understand them. We need to give all active citizens the legal chance to participate in political life," he said.
"Elections must be honest and transparent." Delivering his last state of the nation speech ahead of the expected return to the presidency of Vladimir Putin in May, Mr Medvedev promised he would undertake a "comprehensive reform" of the political system in the months ahead.
"People are tired of having their interests ignored or not even noticed," he told the country's political elite which was gathered in one of the Kremlin's grandest halls.
As Mr Putin, the prime minister and presidential favourite looked on stony-faced, Mr Medvedev vowed to make it easier for opposition candidates to participate in presidential elections by reducing the number of signatures required to run from two million to just 100,000, and said he would abolish the need for parliamentary candidates to collect signatures to run completely.
In a move previously hinted at by Mr Putin, he also said he was ready to return direct elections for regional governors and promised to make it easier for political parties to register, saying that as few as 500 people would be enough to officially form a party in future.
He also floated the idea of creating a new public broadcaster that would be free of political influence.
Mr Medvedev made it clear however that the changes would happen gradually at a pace that suited the Kremlin and that its patience was only so great.
"Attempts to manipulate Russian citizens, lead them astray and incite strife in society are unacceptable," he warned. "We will not allow provocateurs and extremists to drag society into their schemes. We will not allow interference from outside in our internal affairs. Russia needs democracy and not chaos." Whilst many of Mr Medvedev's promises are likely to go down well with the opposition he pointedly ignored their central demand which is for a rerun of the disputed parliamentary election.
Mr Medvedev also has a credibility problem. Much of what he has promised in the last four years has remained at the level of rhetoric and his term in office is almost up giving him scant time to enact reform. A presidential election is due on March 4 and the new president, expected to be Mr Putin, will assume office in May. Meanwhile, the opposition is planning a fresh protest in Moscow on Christmas Eve it hopes will attract tens of thousands of people.