Medvedev May Bolster Putin’s Party as Ratings Sag Before Vote

President Dmitry Medvedev may back Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party this weekend to bolster its flagging support before a parliamentary vote as speculation mounts about which of them will run for the Kremlin next year.

United Russia, chaired by Putin, convenes a three-day congress in Moscow today to adopt a new program and pick candidates for Dec. 4 elections to the State Duma. The party, which holds a two-thirds majority in the lower house of parliament that allows it to change the constitution unilaterally, has seen its popularity slip below 45 percent.

“Medvedev’s participation in the congress should demonstrate his unity with the party and with Putin, showing there are no contradictions between them,” Sergei Markov, a senior member of United Russia, said in a phone interview.

Failure to announce a presidential run by either of Russia’s top two politicians would prolong the political uncertainty that spurred $31.2 billion in capital flight in the first half of the year. The International Monetary Fund, which this week cut its forecasts for Russia’s economic growth in 2011 and 2012, said the lack of clarity before the presidential election was a drag on foreign investment.

Capital flight exceeded $1 billion last month, Deputy Economy Minister Andrei Klepach said Sept. 20. The ministry reversed its earlier forecast for zero capital outflows and now predicts $30 billion to $40 billion may leave the world’s biggest energy exporter in 2011, according to Klepach.

Political Risks

Neither Medvedev nor Putin has ruled out running for president. The prime minister, who has remained at the center of power since relinquishing the presidency, leads Medvedev in opinion polls. He stepped down in 2008 after serving the maximum two consecutive terms permitted by the constitution.

While Putin and Medvedev have said they will decide together which of them will run for the Kremlin in 2012, the president’s advisers have urged him to seek the endorsement of United Russia. Putin and Medvedev will probably wait until December to reveal which of them will run for president, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Igor Yurgens, an adviser to Medvedev and chairman of the Moscow-based Institute of Contemporary Development, a research group set up by the president, is calling on Medvedev to appeal to United Russia to support him in the presidential campaign.

“The sooner it happens the better it will be, clearing away political uncertainty that people are fed up with, which is costing Russia capital and image,” Yurgens said in a Sept. 21 telephone interview.

‘Continued Success’

Medvedev and Putin may head United Russia’s party list, ensuring them a seat each in the Duma should they choose to take it, Frants Klintsevich, a member of the party’s general council, said Sept. 21.

“This will demonstrate the tandem’s continued success,” Klintsevich said, referring to the collective term for the president and prime minister. Medvedev may add 10 percent to the party’s performance in December, he added.

United Russia plans to “maintain its position” in parliament, Duma speaker Boris Gryzlov said in July. The party holds 315 of the Duma’s 450 seats. It has 43 percent backing, according to an Oct. 10-11 poll by the state-run All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion, or VTsIOM. That is down from 59 percent in December 2007.

Medvedev and Putin, neither of whom is formally a member of the party, will address 10,000 of its delegates and supporters on Sept. 24.

People’s Front

To drum up support among the electorate, Putin will also send his deputies, including Igor Shuvalov and Igor Sechin, to spearhead a campaign in the regions.

In May, Putin formed the All-Russia People’s Front, a nationwide coalition of supporters, as backing for United Russia dwindled. The movement brought together more than 700 companies and 2000 interest groups including business labor and women associations. United Russia’s list of candidates for the elections will include members of the People’s Front, Putin said Sept. 21.

“We created the People’s Front to attract new people to politics,” Putin said. “We built a system of direct communication between the authorities and the institutions of civil society.”

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