Medvedev slams ruling party for Russia's 'stagnation'

24th November 2010, Comments 0 comments

President Dmitry Medvedev on Wednesday launched an unprecedented attack on the party that has ruled Russia for the past decade, saying its dominance has left the country stuck in "stagnation."

United Russia -- whose overall leader is prime minister and Medvedev's Kremlin predecessor Vladimir Putin -- has held an overwhelming majority in parliament since its creation in 2001.

Russia's liberals have been sidelined to the point of having no members in parliament and the ruling party controls almost every legislature and governorship across the country's 11 time zones.

But Medvedev said the resulting system has made Russia into a monolith that is resistant to productive change and unreceptive to minority voices.

"If the ruling party has no chance of ever losing anywhere, it eventually 'bronzes over' and degrades, just like any other living organism that does not move," Medvedev said in a video blog address.

He also blamed United Russia for dominating television airtime and receiving a number of other important advantages from federal and local election officials.

"We must have equality that is not simply declarative in nature -- as it had been in the past -- but that is real and measured in hours, minutes and even seconds," Medvedev said.

His comments came ahead of a major policy address the Kremlin chief will deliver to the two houses of parliament Tuesday -- a speech that will be read closely for signs of whether Medvedev plans to stand for reelection in 2012.

Medvedev gave few hints about his own future Wednesday but admitted that some unpleasant realities had developed under his watch.

"At a certain point, our political life started showing symptoms of stagnation," he said in a blog address that he periodically records in a bid to appear more approachable to the Russian public.

"And this stagnation is equally damaging to both the ruling party and the opposition forces."

The Russian word for stagnation (or "zastoi") is often used by historians to describe the political drift that the Soviet Union experienced in the latter years of Leonid Brezhnev's leadership -- a period when the country's status as a superpower began to wane.

But Russia's liberals accuse Medvedev of failing to match his ambitious rhetoric with concrete improvements in democracy and human rights.

"Words are not enough -- we need action," liberal leader and one-time parliament member Vladimir Ryzhkov told the Interfax news agency.

"If the president really does want take stagnation out of our political life and for there to be real competition between the parties, he would need to radically review all the anti-constitutional laws we have now," Ryzhkov said.

Some analysts speculate that Medvedev really would like to introduce radical political change -- but that the system he inherited from Putin is too resistant.

"The question is whether he will be able to impose this change without threatening stability," said Alexei Makarkin of the Centre for Political Technologies policy institute.

"Many people will oppose this -- both in United Russia and among the state bureaucrats," Makarkin said.

The Russian leader -- seen by some analysts as more liberal than Putin -- has positioned himself in the run-up to the 2012 election campaign as a modernising force for Russia.

But he has said little in public about whether he will run for a second term once this one expires. The 2012 election can potentially also be contested by Putin -- who would be allowed to stand for a third term under a constitutional loophole.

Medvedev has previously expressed mild concern over the role United Russia plays in the country's politics. But this appears to be his first full-out criticism of the ruling party's supremacy.

"We understand Dmitry Anatolyevich (Medvedev) perfectly well," top party official Andrei Vorobyov told Moscow Echo radio.

"A contemporary democracy needs competition," he added. "We do not view the opposition as the enemy -- it is simply a different voice."

© 2010 AFP

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