Putin warns of crisis if United Russia weakens

Tuesday, 29 November 2011 00:28 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • PM’s and United Russia’s ratings falling
  • Putin draws parallels with turmoil in Europe
  • Says parliament majority needed to deal with crisis

NOVO-OGARYOVO, Russia (Reuters): Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that if his party lost dominance of parliament in the Dec. 4 election, as a poll suggests, Russia could see Greek-style economic crisis and unrest.

Prime Minister Putin, expected to be nominated as a presidential candidate at the party’s Nov. 27 congress, cited turmoil in Greece and Portugal over spending cuts as examples of things to come if the United Russia party underperforms.

“These things happening in the European countries and the United States are the result of a lack of consolidation in the society, when the leading political forces cannot agree between each other,” Putin told United Russia leaders.

United Russia aims to retain a two-thirds majority in the State Duma but the Nov. 7 poll by Levada pollsters showed that only 51 percent of respondents who plan to vote would vote for United Russia -- down from 60 percent the previous week.

“In this respect, I would like to draw your attention to the need to achieve the best result,” Putin said, arguing that a fragmented parliament will not be able to make decisions quickly enough.

“This will bring us close to the line already crossed by our partners in the European Union,” said Putin, whose own popularity ratings are also slipping, although not as dramatically as his party’s.

At the height of the 2008-09 economic crisis, the Duma, the lower house of parliament, rubber-stamped government-backed legislation freeing billions of dollars of bailout cash from the country’s reserves into the economy.

Putin argued that his “hands-on” management of the economy during the crisis was the biggest success of his four-year stint as prime minister and prevented an economic collapse similar to Russia’s 1998 financial meltdown.

Russia remained largely stable throughout the crisis despite the rouble’s devaluation and a rise in unemployment. Putin and United Russia’s popularity ratings remained high.

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he preferred to describe the recent moves in opinion poll results as “fluctuations”. “Sometime there is an upward trend, sometime there is a downward trend. It’s politics,” Peskov said.

Emerging from the meeting at a residence where the lights went off several times leaving Putin and the party leaders in darkness, deputy Duma speaker Oleg Morozov said he could not rule out the party losing its two-thirds majority.

“If we retain the two-thirds majority, we will congratulate ourselves, if voters decide otherwise, and we receive a simple majority, we will still be able to achieve our goals,” he said.

The two-thirds majority in the current Duma enabled United Russia to make changes to the constitution such as an extension of the presidential term to six years from four - a move that may leave Putin at the helm until 2024.

United Russia head Boris Gryzlov, keen to position his party as centre-right, told Putin that only right-wing governments in Europe were able to maintain order and deal with the crisis, while socialists were headed for collapse.

“Not quite right-wing, conservative, let’s put it this way,” Putin said.