Woman takes Russia's number three post
Russia's upper house of parliament Wednesday elected the ex-governor of Saint Petersburg Valentina Matviyenko as its speaker, giving her in principle the third most important post in the country.
Matviyenko, who was in charge of Russia's second city from 2003 until earlier this year, was overwhelmingly approved as Federation Council speaker in a ceremonial vote with 140 votes in favour, one abstention and none against.
Known for her impeccably coiffured hair and glamorous power dressing, Matviyenko is taking on what according to the constitution is Russia's most powerful post after that of president and prime minister.
Although Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's cabinet contains several women, no woman has held one of Russia's top three posts in modern Russian history. Going further back, only Catherine the Great could claim to have held greater powers.
However cynics point out that the Federation Council acts as no more than a rubber-stamp and the theoretical powers of its speaker are easily trumped by any number of shadowy behind-the-scenes officials and security service members.
The new speaker also gave a swift indication she had no intention of worrying the Kremlin.
"I'm not in favour of revolutions. I don't believe in populism. I'm not a supporter of radical decisions. Practice has shown that usually these are harmful," she said.
Indeed, Matviyenko seemed initially reluctant to quit her Saint Petersburg post and some media said the new job was just a consolation prize as ruling party United Russia no longer trusted her to win votes in the city.
The Federation Council post became vacant after its former incumbent Sergei Mironov was ousted apparently for being critical of the Kremlin, a surreal charge given that he heads what is nominally an opposition party.
© 2011 AFP