Putin's address draws rare public criticism
Russia's parliamentary opposition delivered a rare public rebuke Wednesday of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's annual address to the chamber, calling it a recipe for disaster and potential social unrest.
Putin, who is widely seen as Russia's de facto leader, read a three-hour address to the lower house of parliament in which he vowed to pour money into various social programmes and ensure stable economic growth.
But opposition leaders brushed aside what some interpreted as a hollow campaign manifesto, saying that Russia was spiralling through a humiliating decline that could lead to violent demonstrations similar to those shaking parts of the Arab world.
"If the elections are as dirty as before, the situation will develop along the North African scenario," Communist Party chief Gennady Zyuganov said in reference to this year's parliamentary and next year's presidential polls.
"Eighty percent of the people live on ... a maximum of 17,000 rubles per month (about $600)," he said. "We have a half-poor, half-hungry population that is incapable of implementing serious (government) programmes."
The head of Just Russia, a party that paints itself as an opposition group but which has an almost perfect pro-government voting record in parliament, also aimed a rare barb at Putin's policies.
Nikolai Levichev called education reforms outlined by Putin "a mockery" and contrasted them with US President Barack Obama's pledge to support research and other initiatives.
"Why is there emotional discomfort in society? Why are banners about modernisation turning into despair?" Levichev asked.
"Is it not because the government is using a well-worn deck of self-proclaimed experts? And itself is made up of people not professional in the spheres they govern?"
There are currently four parties in the 450-seat State Duma, which is overwhelmingly dominated by United Russia party.
Putin serves as the party's chairman and was warmly praised by Duma speaker and United Russia faction leader Boris Gryzlov, who has already vowed to support the prime minister if he decides to run for president next year.
© 2011 AFP