Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev

Moscow - Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev on Tuesday signed off on a new law meant to open up the country's political system to greater competition after a wave of protests against the dominance of Vladimir Putin's ruling United Russia party.

Medvedev, who is due to step down in May in favour of Putin, signed the new bill into law at a meeting with opposition leaders, but the event was boycotted by organisers of the recent anti-Kremlin protests in Moscow and other large cities.

“Of course, as happens in life, it (the new law) has satisfied some and not quite the others. Let's wait and see. Maybe this law, like many others, will develop,” Medvedev told about 40 small party leaders gathered in the Kremlin.

The new law will make it easier to register political parties, cutting the required number of members to 500 from the previous 40,000, and should benefit the groups behind the protests.

The move is one of the few concrete gains for demonstrators, who failed to prevent Putin from winning a six-year presidential term in a March 4 vote or to force the rerun of a December parliamentary election they said was marred by fraud.

Critics say the law is a sophisticated plot however.

“I believe that many parties will appear now. This is the authorities' idea - to flood the political space with many new parties, to create chaos,” Sergei Udaltsov, a leader of the unregistered leftist group Left Front, told Reuters.

Udaltsov, along with the leaders of the unregistered Party of People's Freedom (PARNAS), chose not to attend the meeting with Medvedev, saying that most of the proposals put forward by the opposition have been rejected.

The opposition wanted the authorities to be stripped of the right to reject registration and wanted to be able to create blocs in which smaller parties could unite. Both proposals have been rejected.

“All the levers, all the instruments, all the catches are still in the hands of the authorities,” said Konstantin Merzlikin from PARNAS

Russia's President-elect Vladimir Putin has said that some barriers for registration should remain in place in order to prevent the creation of regional nationalist parties which could fuel separatist sentiment in the multi-ethnic oil-rich country.

The Duma or lower house of parliament, dominated by United Russia, is also reviewing a bill on the direct election of regional governors, who are currently de-facto appointed by the president.

The authorities are betting that the new legislation will keep the opposition busy with local election campaigns, distracting its attention away from the Kremlin and the government during Putin's six-year term.

On Sunday, an independent candidate backed by the opposition won the mayoral election in the industrial city of Yaroslavl, beating a pro-Kremlin rival in an early test of the Kremlin's ability to successfully engage in local politics. - Reuters