Putin Accused Of "Crushing Democracy" In Russia (2004)
(IPS) MOSCOW --
Vladimir Putin's decision on Friday to appoint Viktor Zubkov, an obscure politician, as Russia's new prime minister has caused speculation that Putin may be hoping to return to power in 2012.
Vyacheslav Smirnov, a senior political analyst at the Russian Academy of Sciences, said, "I think the dominating view within the political spectrum is that Putin, without much doubt, needs a single-term successor who will strategically clear the way for his third term -- his " political return. That is what all the hullabaloo and intrigues are directed at."
Soon after his nomination, Zubkov announced that he may run for presidency in March 2008, when Putin's term is due to expire, leading analysts to hypothesize that Zubkov may be the "single-term successor" that Putin is counting on.
Boris Gryzlov, the State Duma chairman and leader of the Kremlin-backed United Russia party in the house, said, "We plan to back the candidacy of Viktor Zubkov unanimously." Members of Just Russia and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia echoed his words.
Vladimir Zhirinovsky of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia hailed Zubkov as an efficient professional. "I believe this will be Russia's best government, one comprising professionals who have stood the test of time," he said.
The president signed a decree confirming Zubkov as Prime Minister after the lower house of parliament voted overwhelmingly to back his candidacy with 381 votes in favor mainly from United Russia party, with 47 votes against.
The new prime minister is now expected to present his proposals on changing the structure of federal bodies and to nominate new ministers and deputy premiers within a week.
The president's choice of the relatively unknown candidate came after Sergey Ivanov and Dmitry Medvedev -- both Putin's allies who were recently promoted to first deputy prime ministers and seen as top presidential contenders -- repeatedly denied their presidential ambitions.
If presidential elections in Russia were held this month, 34 percent would vote for Medvedev and 31 percent for Ivanov, according to a survey by the local research organization Levada Center.
Zubkov, 65, headed the Federal Financial Services Agency since 2001 and was Putin's deputy in the St. Petersburg mayor's office in the 1990s. He was nominated for the post of prime minister when Putin dismissed the government and ousted Premier Mikhail Fradkov three months ahead of parliamentary polls.
Putin has repeatedly said he would not run for presidency because the president is forbidden from serving three terms in a row. But the United Russia party has said it would make it possible for Putin to return to the Kremlin seat in 2012.
In another Levada Center survey in July, more than 80 percent of Russians expressed approval of Putin's term as president. Speakers of the upper and lower legislative chambers Sergey Mironov and Boris Gryzlov have suggested nomination of Putin for presidency in 2012.
Experts say the unexpected appointment of Zubkov is strategically designed to ensure smooth succession of power after the incumbent leader steps down.
"We believe that Putin will not run for the third term, since the consensus on that issue had been reached two years ago. The most likely outcome of Putin's intrigue could be his return to power in 2012," said Andrey Dirgin, a political analyst at the Financial Metropol Investment Company.
Speaking to lawmakers before Friday's vote, Zubkov pledged his commitment to policies pursued by President Putin.
"The priorities for my job will be the strategic guidelines and action plan outlined in the president's address to parliament -- sustainable economic and social development by streamlining government activities and raising officials' personal responsibility," he said.
Zubkov highlighted development of the defense sector as another "strategic objective" for a new government, pledging to ensure proper control over federal funds allocated for the purpose.
He proposed passing of an anti-corruption law along with a body to enforce it, and he voiced his opposition to media censorship.
The earlier government had to be replaced because its members had significantly slowed down their work, Putin explained last weekend.
Asked whether Zubkov may run for president in 2008, Putin said: "As any Russian citizen, Zubkov may take part in the presidential election. He is a man with a rich professional and life experience. One can say a true professional, a brilliant administrator."
Putin added: "There are now at least five people who can run for president and can be elected. It's good that another person has appeared, and that Russian citizens will have a selection of candidates to choose from."
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