Russia's Putin calls for broad coalition ahead of polls
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Friday issued a rallying call to Russia's political forces to unite around his ruling United Russia party in a possible bid to boost his own standing ahead of polls.
In a marathon speech at a United Russia party meeting, Putin also came out with a surprise initiative to establish a government agency to promote young talents and embattled non-governmental organisations.
The powerful prime minister said he wanted everyone from women's organisations to trade unions to help his party select candidates for parliamentary polls in December.
"I am essentially proposing that we form something that in political practice is called a broad people's front," Putin said to applause and cries of "Bravo!" from the audience.
"I thank you for this reaction -- for the support," a smiling Putin added in nationally televised remarks in the city of Volgograd formerly known as Stalingrad.
"Let's call this the all-Russia people's front because it comes ahead of May 9 and such rhetoric is appropriate in Stalingrad," Putin said ahead of country-wide Victory Day celebrations on Monday.
December's parliamentary elections are seen as a rehearsal for presidential polls in March in which both Putin, 58, and his junior partner President Dmitry Medvedev, 45, are considering running.
Neither one has confirmed he would run however and some analysts say competition between the two men is intensifying as Medvedev wants to stay in the Kremlin and Putin shows no willingness to retire.
Putin did not mention the March presidential polls in his speech however and his spokesman Dmitry Peskov stressed Putin's address should not be considered as his presidential bid.
Analysts say it is ultimately up to Putin to decide who will run for the country's top job.
During his stamina-busting address, Putin also called on Russia's young and talented to participate in the country's decision-making.
"There is a proposal to create an agency of strategic initiatives under the auspices of the government chairman to promote new projects," he said.
"Let's try to create a forum, a new forum to work with those who seek success and propose new ideas," he said, adding the new agency will help promote new business ideas, support start-ups and back young talent.
Medvedev has come up with similar ideas in the past and Putin's initiative is likely to be seen in some quarters as a possible attempt to win support of young educated Russians who sociologists say make up Medvedev's core support group.
Putin, who in the past has repeatedly accused non-governmental organisations of working in the interests of Western powers, also said his new agency would help hundreds of activists realise their projects.
"Russia's NGOs are hundreds of thousands of activists who independently of the state solve extremely important problems our people face," Putin said in the marathon address which touched on everything from Russia's sporting victories to the Soviet victory in World War II.
Analysts said that while the victory of a Kremlin candidate in the 2012 polls is all but assured, there are signs of growing discontent with the authorities and Putin seeks to shore up his party's position.
"This is a pre-election declaration before the parliamentary elections," said Alexei Malashenko, an analyst with the Moscow Carnegie Centre.
"The fact that Putin wants to be the leader of this people's front is a step towards presidency but it is still too early to make conclusions," he added.
Last month Medvedev made a bold attempt to demonstrate he was his own man when he said he would soon announce whether he would run for a new Kremlin term.
He quickly backed off when Putin bluntly responded that there was nearly an entire year to make that announcement.
Unlike Putin, the Kremlin chief does not have a political party of his own.
United Russia over the past days unleashed a torrent of criticism against Sergei Mironov, a leader of A Just Russia party, a pro-Kremlin party that some say may provide a political springboard for Medvedev ahead of the polls.
© 2011 AFP