Russia awaits new clues in election puzzle
The rampant ruling party of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin meets on Friday to set a strategy for parliamentary polls that could offer hints over who will stand for the presidency in 2012.
Pro-Kremlin analysts and media have in the last days doused expectations that the congress of United Russia could see Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev reveal who will stand for the Kremlin in March polls.
But the congress is expected to set the lists for legislative polls in December and could offer tantalising clues of the establishment's intentions for Russia's sixth presidential elections since the collapse of the USSR.
United Russia is due on Friday to discuss bread-and-butter regional issues when the congress opens at 1100 GMT but the main event is due to be a rare joint public appearance and speeches by both Putin and Medvedev on Saturday.
To the anger of Russia's sidelined liberal opposition, Putin and Medvedev have offered little insight into their intentions for March 2012, even as the clock ticks down, beyond vowing that they will not compete against each other.
Putin left the Kremlin in 2008 after serving a maximum two consecutive terms but carried on as Russia's de-facto number one as prime minister while his hand-picked successor Medvedev served as a sometimes overshadowed president.
The Moskovsky Komsomolets daily, seen as close to Medvedev, said Friday the announcement on the presidential candidate is unlikely to be made before December at the earliest.
"Putin is known for his habit of stretching out crucial decisions until the very last moment," it added.
The daily Vedomosti quoted United Russia sources as saying that the party will hold another congress in December after the December 4 parliamentary elections, where the presidential question will be decided.
According to online newspaper gazeta.ru, Putin will be the dominant figure at the congress, giving a one-hour speech on Saturday while that of Medvedev will only last 20 minutes.
Putin is the overall leader of United Russia -- which dominates parliament in the absence of any credible opposition -- although by an odd quirk typical of the surreal world of Russian politics he is not a member of the party.
Medvedev -- who in November blamed United Russia for a creeping "stagnation" in the country -- has no formal position in the party.
The Interfax news agency, quoting a source in the party leadership, said that Putin alone would head the party list in a repeat of the same scenario from the last parliamentary elections. The list would be agreed on Saturday.
While Friday's session is due to take place in a conference centre close to the Kremlin, Medvedev and Putin will speak at the gigantic Luzhniki sports complex in what promises to be a glitzy spectacle attended by thousands.
Shifting the decision on the presidency to December would allow the authorities to take note of any shifts in public opinion, particularly at a time when the world is threatened by a new global recession that could hurt key oil exporter Russia.
According to the latest poll by leading Russian pollster VTsIOM, 43 percent of Russians will vote for United Russia, well down from its peak rating of 60 percent in October 2008 but still quadruple that of its nearest challenger.
Fellow polling group Levada Centre said that according to its latest survey, 41 percent of Russians believe that Putin will be president in 2012 and only 22 percent think that Medvedev will stay in his post.
© 2011 AFP