MarlinFan10 Posted September 13, 2004 Share Posted September 13, 2004 Putin Moves to Increase Power, Citing Effort to Fight Terror By STEVEN LEE MYERS Published: September 13, 2004 OSCOW, Sept. 13 President Vladimir V. Putin ordered a sweeping overhaul of Russia's political system today in what he called an effort to unite the country against terrorism. If enacted, as expected, his proposals would strengthen the Kremlin's already pervasive control over the legislative branch and regional governments. Mr. Putin, meeting in special session with cabinet ministers and regional government leaders, outlined what would be the most significant political restructuring in Russia in more than a decade one that critics immediately said would violate the constitution and stifle what political opposition remains. Under Mr. Putin's proposals, which he said required only legislative approval and not constitutional amendments, the governors or presidents of the country's 89 regions would no longer be elected by popular vote but rather by local parliaments and only on the president's recommendation. Seats in the lower house of the federal parliament, or Duma, would be elected entirely on national party slates, eliminating district races across the country that now decide half of the parliament's composition. In last December's elections, those races accounted for all of the independents and liberals now serving in the Duma. In the wake of the school siege in Beslan, the downing of two passenger airlines and other terrorist attacks that have shaken the country, Mr. Putin argued once again that Russia was ill-prepared to fight terrorism and said the country needed a more unified political system. His proposals, however, made clear that for him unity means a consolidation of power in the executive branch. "Those who inspire, organize and carry out terrorist acts are striving to disintegrate the country," Mr. Putin said in televised remarks that the state channels rebroadcast repeatedly, in their entirety, through the day and evening. "They strive for the break up of the state, for the ruin of Russia. I am sure that the unity of the country is the main prerequisite for victory over terror." Across the short spectrum of political opposition in today's Russia, reactions ranged from stunned disbelief to helpless anger. Gennady A. Zyuganov, the leader of the main opposition party, the Communists, called the proposals "ill conceived." Sergei S. Mitrokhin, a leader of the liberal Yabloko party, said they represented "the elimination of the last links in a system of checks and balances." Mikhail M. Zadornov, an independent deputy who was elected from a district in southern Moscow last year, said that rather than unifying Russians against terror, the proposals would simply disenfranchise them from politics and the state. "All these measures," he said in a telephone interview, "mean we are coming back to the U.S.S.R." The electoral changes require the approval of parliament, but since the party loyal to Mr. Putin, United Russia, controls more than two-thirds of the 450 seats, that is almost a foregone conclusion. Mr. Mitrokhin said that while Mr. Putin's proposals "contradict the letter and the spirit of the constitution," challenges to them would be futile. "Unfortunately," he said, "in Russia there is no independent parliament and no independent judiciary." In the wrenching days since the siege at Middle School No. 1 in Beslan, where Chechen and other terrorists held and ultimately killed hundreds of hostages, Mr. Putin has appeared publicly a handful of times and with unusual candor acknowledged the government's failures and weaknesses in fighting terrorism. Until today, however, he had offered only the vaguest proposals to fix them, instead exhorting Russians to mobilize against the threats facing the country. In the years since Boris N. Yeltsin elevated him to the presidency on Dec. 31, 1999, Mr. Putin has steadily consolidated political power in the executive branch, often by the sheer force of his will. He took away the power to appoint the upper house of parliament from the regions. He imposed a structure of seven federal districts over the vast and unruly country, each led by his appointees. He also used the Kremlin's vast power over television and government resources, as well as his own popularity, to reward loyal governors and punish or push aside disloyal ones. His proposals today, however, went further than any of other steps under Mr. Putin's watch. Since Russia adopted a new constitution in 1993, residents of the country's 89 regions, from Chukotka in the east to Kaliningrad in the west, have elected their governors or, in some places, presidents. They have also sent their own regional deputies to Moscow. Mr. Putin's proposals would take those choices out of the voters' hands. Mr. Putin said the change in parliamentary elections would strengthen the national parties, which he said would ensure "a real dialogue and interaction between power and society in the fight against terror." In last December's elections, only four parties crossed the threshold for winning seats and three of them generally support the Kremlin: United Russia, the Liberal Democrats and Motherland. The Communist Party, marginalized and increasingly disorganized, remains the only pure opposition party. Two other prominent opposition parties, Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces, failed to win any seats. A direct proportional election would give the advantage of incumbency to those parties in power and eliminate local grass-roots campaigns that have provided the handful of dissenting voices heard on the Duma floor. Andrei A. Piontovsky, an analyst at the Center for Strategic Studies in Moscow, said the change in regional elections could have the unintended consequence of alienating voters in the ethnic patchwork of semi-autonomous regions and republics, many led by presidents who enjoy at least a degree of independence from the central government. "It is not only stupid," Mr. Piontovsky said of the proposal to have Mr. Putin appoint regional leaders to be approved by local parliaments. "It is very sensitive for the national republics like Tatarstan and those in the North Caucasus. It will be a humiliation to the people there." After Mr. Putin's meeting, a number of regional leaders loyal to the Kremlin appeared on state television and endorsed his proposals, if not that one specifically. They included Tatarstan's president, Mintimer S. Shaymiyev, Valentina I. Matvienko, the governor of the city of St. Petersburg, and Alu Alkahnov, the newly elected president of Chechnya. In Beslan's aftermath, Mr. Putin has faced unusually pointed criticism from the public and in newspapers. Last Friday, appearing to bow to pressure, he agreed to a public inquiry into the attack on the school, though one controlled by the Federal Council, whose members he appoints. On Saturday, he also dismissed the interior minister and security chief of North Ossetia, where Beslan is located, though not its president, Aleksandr S. Dzosokhov, who was among those at Mr. Putin's special session today. In addition to the changes in the political system, Mr. Putin also demoted his representative in the Southern Federal District, Vladimir A. Yakovlev, who had overseen Chechnya and the rest of the North Caucasus. In his place, Mr. Putin appointed one of his most trusted aides, Dmitry N. Kozak, who since March has served as chief of the government. Before that Mr. Kozak had overseen Mr. Putin's efforts to rewrite the criminal code and to streamline the government. Mr. Putin also proposed the unification of counter-terrorism efforts in a single agency, citing the examples of "a whole number of countries which have been confronted with the terrorist threat." That appeared to be a reference to agencies like the Department of Homeland Security in the United States which some here have said Russia should emulate but Mr. Putin did not provide any details. Mr. Putin also called for banning "extremist organizations using religious, nationalistic and any other phraseology as cover" and toughen penalties for crimes committed by terrorists, even minor ones. He cited the example of obtaining a false passport that could be used to evade the police. The electoral changes, however, provoked the fiercest criticism. Several politicians and analysts said the proposals had little to do with better protecting Russia from terrorist attacks like those in the last three weeks. "It is not a reaction to a terrorist attack," Mr. Zadornov said. "It is an attempt to change the political system to have more control." So much for a long-lasting democracy in Russia. :o Quote Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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