- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 7, 2005

A leading voice in Russia’s Kremlin-dominated parliament says it is time to get the parties started.

Konstantin I. Kosachev, a member of the ruling United Russia party and chairman of the State Duma’s international affairs committee, said his country badly needs to create new political blocs united by ideas and not by loyalty to a dominant personality.

?Our party definitely supports President [Vladimir] Putin, but beyond that, we have figures from virtually across the spectrum,? Mr. Kosachev said in an interview during a Washington visit this week.

?If our only policy is to support the president, I fear that won’t be enough.?

Mr. Putin and most members of the executive branch do not belong to any party, and Mr. Kosachev said voters often have little idea of the ideology of the candidates and parties running in parliamentary elections.

Mr. Kosachev said he would like to see his party develop into a ?conservative,? pro-market force, while noting that many in United Russia favor a more center-left, social democratic approach.

?I’d like to get the debate started, and very soon,? he said.

As Western critics worry about the state of political freedoms in Russia, Mr. Kosachev and other Russian leaders say revamping the fluid political alliances into real parties would represent a major reform in itself.

Dmitri Medvedev, one of Mr. Putin’s most powerful aides as director of the presidential administration, complained in a rare interview with a Russian magazine earlier this month of the absence of a ?normal right-wing party? on the political landscape.

?The programs of a lot of political forces are unclear, their ideologies blurred. They don’t have a particular face,? he said.

United Russia, formed just before the December 2003 Duma elections and seen as a tool of Mr. Putin, dominates the 450-seat lower house of parliament with 222 seats, with the Communists a distant second with 53 seats.

But both Mr. Kosachev and Mr. Medvedev raised the possibility that United Russia may have to split up for its own good, adopting a coherent platform not tied solely to Mr. Putin in time for a December 2007 vote.

Mr. Kosachev said the sharp divide between the executive and legislative branches in Russia dated to the open hostilities between lawmakers and President Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s. The arrangement had suited both sides, he said.

?When something bad happened, both sides could blame the other and nobody was ultimately responsible,? he said.

Mr. Kosachev defended recent moves by Mr. Putin to strengthen central power at the expense of local lawmakers and regional governors. He also rejected suggestions that Mr. Putin would try to stay on as president when his second term ends in 2008, in violation of Russia’s 12-year-old constitution.

?It’s quite clear the president is in good shape physically and politically, and I would not exclude that he would find a new role to play,? Mr. Kosachev said.

But ?changing the constitution now would be too complicated for all of us, including Mr. Putin,? he said.

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