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The principle "a free society of free people" became the main theme of this year's presidential address to the Federal Assembly
The address was demonstrably ideological and was worded to spotlight the liberal identity of the current authorities, expressed in respect for the supremacy of human rights and freedoms, and democracy. It was largely the president's response to growing Western criticism of Russia's state policy, as the critics say efforts to bolster it infringe on democracy. In this context, the president's ideas pointing to the opposite are of major interest: while strengthening the state, the authorities also strive to increase the role of the parties and create conditions for the development of a civil society in Russia. Vladimir Putin suggested real and revolutionary innovations. First, he called for increasing parliament's role by creating the institution of parliamentary investigation. Second, he proposed creating equal competitive conditions for political parties and their State Duma factions by granting them access to the mass media and establishing public control over compliance with the principle of the freedom of speech through a special commission in the Public Chamber. And third, he wanted to enhance the role and influence of political parties through their contribution to creating executive authorities in members of the Federation. The president has been recently criticized, both at home and abroad, for creating favorable conditions for the party of power. Objectively, this can be seen in United Russia's constitutional majority in the State Duma, as the party has monopolized lawmaking in the lower house and hence most newsbreaks are connected with its work. The scandal with the hunger strike by Homeland deputies in February was not so much a protest against benefit reform as against their inability to ensure a debate on their draft assessment of how the related Law No. 122 was being implemented. The opposition factions resort to street demonstrations, which fans social tension, in a bid to compensate for their reduced efficacy within parliament. During a meeting with the leaders of parliamentary factions on February 15, the president instructed the Duma's speaker, Boris Gryzlov, "to settle problems with the opposition in the Duma." By raising this problem in his state of the nation address, the president sought to prove the democratic character of the current system. He reinforced it with another recommendation: to extend the powers of the Public Chamber by establishing a special commission in it that would monitor freedom of speech in the mass media. Another, even more important statement of the president concerns the new system of granting powers to the heads of Federation members. Putin proposed submitting a new procedure for approving the powers of the executive heads of Federation members to the State Council for consideration. Under it, the president shall nominate a member of the party that won the regional elections for the post of governor for approval by the local legislative assembly. This scheme includes elements of parliamentary rule. Politically, it would increase the role of political parties and dramatically raise the stakes in the political contest for seats in regional parliaments. United Russia has won 14 of the 17 parliamentary elections held in the past six months. If the party gains access to the election of governors, the party of power will become the ruling party, which will make the Russian party system more civilized. But Putin's words cannot be interpreted literally, as meaning that political parties that have a relative majority in their region's assembly may put forward their representative to the president. He mentioned only the possibility of doing this and talked about submitting the issue to the State Council for consideration, rather than formalizing it in law. In 2003, Putin spoke about the parliamentary majority forming a government, which many observers interpreted as a call to establish such a government. But the president nominated a candidate for the post of premier after general consultations with United Russia where no candidates were discussed. In fact, there is no contradiction, as the nomination of a representative of the party that won the election to the post of a governor should not be the end goal and should not contradict the principles of the personnel policy's effectiveness. Not only a party member or a deputy elected by party lists may represent the party, which can support any candidate who suits its purposes. The president has a broad range of possibilities, from consultations with the winning party and coordinating the candidate with it (this conforms to the current principle of "the assignation of powers") to nominating a member of that party's faction to the post of regional head. Besides, there is the principle of alternative candidates for the post of governor, which allows the group of potential claimants to be increased and a potential "personnel shortage" to be precluded. In other words, the president will be guided in his choice above all by the criterion of the effective personnel policy, which will be combined, where possible, with the objective of increasing the role of political parties
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