President Dmitry Medvedev met organizers of protests against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin for the first time since alleged fraud in December parliamentary polls provoked the biggest unrest since the 1990s.
“Our political system is of course far from ideal and most of those present are critical of it, sometimes very harshly so,” Medvedev told the meeting today, according to a transcript posted on the Kremlin website. “The time has come to be more active” in changing the political system, he said.
Putin, 59, who has been in power for 12 years, is forecast to get a new six-year term in March 4 presidential elections. He has rejected opposition calls for a re-run of the Dec. 4 legislative vote, which his political rivals say was rigged to inflate the score of his ruling United Russia party from 30 to about 50 percent.
The organizers of protests in December and February, which attracted tens of thousands of people in major Russian cities, have vowed to mount even bigger rallies if Putin wins the presidency.
Medvedev, 46, who agreed in September to replace Putin as prime minister so that the Russian leader could return to the Kremlin, has submitted legislation to make it easier for parties to register. He withdrew a proposal that would have reserved half the seats in the lower house of parliament for independent lawmakers.
Sergei Baburin, an opposition activist who attended the meeting, said that Medvedev had promised to enact political changes that also include restoring direct elections for governors before he steps down as president in May.
Medvedev told the participants that the December elections were legitimate and the presidential vote is also proceeding in a legal manner, Baburin said. At the same time, the president described the protests as an acceptable way to show the authorities their mistakes. “The government must be strong but not overweening,” Medvedev said, according to Baburin.
Putin is projected to win next month on the first round with 58.6 percent of the vote, according to a poll published today by the state-run All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion.
The Russian leader pledged honest elections in March when asked in December what he can offer the country as a New Year’s gift, after saying he didn’t need “any manipulation” to win. The prime minister in November said foreign powers were seeking to intervene in elections by financing civil-society groups.
Putin served as president from 2000 to 2008 and then moved to the premiership to comply with constitutional term limits, backing his protégé Medvedev to take his place.