Medvedev Says United Russia Leaders Should All Join Party

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told United Russia that its leaders and parliamentary-election candidates should all be official members to prove the party is not “just a machine for votes.”

“It’s essential that the management of United Russia and that United Russia’s leaders, as well as those heading the party’s electoral lists, should be members of United Russia -- without exception,” Medvedev said in Moscow today, according to a Kremlin transcript. “Only then can the people of our country believe that the party is not just a machine for votes or a stepping stone in some official’s career.”

United Russia had its worst showing in a parliamentary election since 2003 this month. Medvedev, who is not a party member, led its list of candidates in the vote. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who is seeking to win a presidential election in March, is United Russia’s chairman although he never formally joined the party.

“Medvedev wants to lead United Russia because he understands it’s the single best way to ensure he stays in power,” Stanislav Belkovsky, director of the Moscow-based Institute for National Strategy, said by telephone today. “If Medvedev takes over as head of the party, that will sharply improve his chances of becoming prime minister.”

Medvedev won’t officially join any political party while he is still in office, Interfax reported today, citing his press secretary Natalya Timakova.

Possible Premiers

While Putin may have promised to let Medvedev head the new government, there have been talks about other candidates including billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, Belkovsky said. “Other people are looking for the job and feel that Medvedev is too weak and ineffective to be prime minister.”

Prokhorov, owner of the New Jersey Nets basketball team, said Dec. 12 he would seek the presidency and try to unite opponents of Putin, including those who protested the fairness of the vote to the State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament. Putin said Dec. 15 that Prokhorov would be a “worthy and strong competitor” in the presidential race.

Earlier this year, Putin formed a political movement called the All-Russia People’s Front, which includes members of professional groups and other supporters who didn’t want to join United Russia. Some of the front’s leaders were added to United Russia’s party list in the Duma vote and will become deputies when it reconvenes next week.

Moscow Protests

Tens of thousands of people assembled in central Moscow on Dec. 10 to protest the parliamentary vote after international election monitors said there was evidence of ballot-box stuffing. Another rally for as many as 50,000 people was approved by Moscow city authorities for Dec. 24.

Some 1,500 people including about 200 reporters attended a protest today on Bolotnaya Square, the site of last week’s rally, Anatoly Lastovetsky, a Moscow police spokesman, said by phone. The protest was peaceful and there were no detentions, he said.

Moscow authorized a rally for as many as 10,000 people today, according to a scanned copy of the permit posted by the Yabloko party, one of the organizers.

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