Medvedev convenes new parliament despite protests
President Dmitry Medvedev convened Tuesday the first session of Russia's newly-elected parliament amid a wave of protests over alleged fraud that helped the ruling party cling on to its majority.
Medvedev told the leaders of parliament's four factions in a special meeting that the first session will be held on December 21, despite ongoing checks into allegations of vote-fixing and other violations.
"Today I am signing a decree for the first session of the Duma to be held on December 21," Medvedev told the leaders of parliament's four factions. "Far from everyone is happy with the election results ... but that is always the case."
The decision marks the end of any opposition hopes of forcing the Russian authorities to call a re-run of the December 4 vote that handed strongman Vladimir Putin's party United Russia a slim majority despite reduced support.
The outcome was accompanied by a flood of footage shot by voters at polling stations and posted on the Internet appearing to show ballot boxes filled with votes before hours and officials filling in fake the results by hand.
The vote had been seen as a test of Putin's decision return to the Kremlin in March presidential elections and the worse-than-expected results for the ruling party and subsequent protests appear to have caught the state off guard.
Medvedev said he would deliver an annual address to the nation on December 22 -- two days before a mass opposition rally in Moscow is expected to draw some 50,000 people for the second time in two weeks.
Putin is also due to address the worst political flare-up of his 12-year rule in an annual televised question and answer sessions with ordinary Russians on Thursday.
Medvedev responded to mass national protests on Saturday by ordering checks into the reported violations. He told the four party leaders on Tuesday that the inquiry was ongoing but that only 117 complaints had been raised.
"There are complaints about elections in certain polling stations," said Medvedev.
"Election commissions and courts will have to carefully examine all the complaints and lawsuits carefully. Where real violations are found, they have to take just action," he added.
He also promised to push ahead with political reforms before leaving office in March presidential election that are widely expected to hand the presidency back to Putin.
"We must take new decisions, take more decisive steps to remove barriers on political activity. ... And what is most important for our country, (we must) bridge the gap between various social groups and government institutions."
As a concession, United Russia is expected to give up its stranglehold on parliamentary committees -- a measure aimed at giving the three nominally opposition parties in parliament a stronger voice.
"The opposition should control a large part of key parliament committees," Medvedev said.
Analysts still believe Putin should win the presidential polls but predict a far rockier ride to his third Kremlin term than appeared the case just weeks ago when the opposition lacked the confidence it gained with the rallies.
An unexpected challenger appeared Monday in the shape of tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov who has in the past shown liberal sympathies although some newspapers expressed suspicion his candidacy was no more than a Kremlin plot to soak up dissent.
The Vedomosti daily quoted a Kremlin source as saying that Prokhorov's candidacy was a "tactical decision" aimed at reducing tensions in society after the protests of the last week.
The ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party Tuesday meanwhile nominated its leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky to stand in the elections for a fifth time.
The leader of the Fair Russia party Sergei Mironov formally put in his application to stand in the elections with the central election commission, adding that he believed race was still open.
"I am convinced that the election will require two rounds," he said, doubting that Putin would win more than 50 percent in the first round, the Interfax news agency reported.
© 2011 AFP