Putin eyes 'moral' mandate

Time of article published Nov 13, 2007

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Moscow - President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday he would have a "moral" mandate to influence Russian politics, even after leaving office in 2008, if his United Russia party wins next month's parliamentary election.

"If people vote for United Russia, whose candidate list I head, that means they trust me," Putin, 55, said in comments broadcast on state television.

"And that means that I would have the moral right to ask all those who will be in the Duma (parliament), and those in the government, to work toward implementing today's decisions," he said.

This was one of the strongest indications yet that Putin wants to remain in politics after stepping down from the Kremlin at the end of his second term next year, as required by the constitution.

Despite insisting that he will respect the constitution, Putin has repeatedly hinted at some undefined future role. One possibility is that he would assume prime minister at the head of United Russia, the party forecast to sweep the December 2 election.

The former KGB officer was talking with road-construction workers in the southern city of Krasnoyarsk, when one of whom asked him to consider staying for a third presidential term.

The same request has been posed at forums around the country ahead of the December election and a March 2 presidential election. Although Putin cannot stand for re-election as president, there is not yet a single viable candidate.

As usual, Putin responded by suggesting he would retain major influence, while remaining coy on the details.

"I am holding back from a direct answer, but various possibilities exist," Putin said, referring to how he would "ask" lawmakers and ministers to work following the legislative polls.

Putin said United Russia -- created almost overnight in July 2001 as a pro-Kremlin vehicle -- was the best party available but still needed "firm ideology, principles."

"I took the decision to head the list of United Russia to convince people to vote for this party and help form a majority in the State Duma which would consider itself to be like-minded with the government," Putin said.

United Russia already holds two-thirds of seats in the State Duma and is forecast to score a crushing victory next month. The Communist Party is expected to come a distant second, while liberal parties once popular in the 1990s will probably win no seats at all.

Under the proportional representation system in force, each of the 11 parties contesting the legislative election presents a list of candidates. How many deputies from this list get seats in parliament depends on the party's share of the total vote.

Typically, parties present a federal list comprising the leader and two more well-known names, followed by a list of candidates from specific regions. United Russia's federal list however has only one name: Putin.

The party's slogan is "Putin's Plan -- Russia's Triumph!"

United Russia says it is aiming to win 55 to 60 percent of the vote.

The rest of the vote would be divided up into smaller parties, many of which would fail to cross the minimum seven-percent barrier required to win any seats.

That means that even a 55 percent share of the vote would translate into a proportionally greater share of the seats in the 450-member State Duma.

The lavishly funded United Russia is the only one of the 11 parties refusing to take part in television debates as part of the election run-up.

sms/jj - AFP

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