x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Medvedev warns against 'provocateurs and extremists' upsetting stability

The Russian president responds to the wave of protests over fraud-tainted elections, proposing a set of reforms to liberalise Russia's political system.

MOSCOW // The Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, responded to the wave of protests over fraud-tainted elections yesterday, proposing a set of reforms to liberalise Russia's political system.

However, he sternly warned that the government would not allow "provocateurs and extremists" to threaten stability.

Mr Medvedev said in his state-of-the nation address that Russia "needs democracy, not chaos" and that the government would strongly resist foreign pressure.

The statement follows massive rallies against fraud in the December 4 vote, in which the main Kremlin party, United Russia, lost a quarter of its seats. Opposition leaders and independent election monitors said United Russia only managed to retain its majority by fraud.

A rally in Moscow drew tens of thousands demanding a repeat vote and punishment for the officials involved in fraud, the largest show of discontent since the 1991 Soviet collapse. Another massive rally is set for tomorrow.

The protests dented the power of the prime minister, Vladimir Putin, and signalled that his bid to reclaim the presidency in elections in March may not be as trouble-free as had been thought.

Both Mr Putin and Mr Medvedev, who has been his loyal place holder, firmly rejected the calls for a rerun, saying the vote reflected the people's will. Mr Putin has accused the US of fomenting the protests to weaken Russia, and Mr Medvedev has rejected US criticism of the vote.

"We won't allow provocateurs and extremists to drag society into their adventures, and we won't allow any outside interference into our domestic affairs," Mr Medvedev said yesterday.

Medvedev repeated the pledge to return to direct elections of governors and spelt out Mr Putin's promise to ease registration rules for political parties. He said that a group of 500 people representing more than half of Russia's provinces would be allowed to register a party - a significant simplification of the current arcane procedure that requires a party to have at least 45,000 members and makes it easy for authorities to deny registration to opposition groups.

Mr Medvedev also proposed reducing the number of signatures a candidate must collect to get on the presidential ballot from 2 million to 300,000.

The opposition, however, would only be able to take advantage of the new procedures in the next election cycle.

"Medvedev's address is like an injection in an artificial limb," tweeted Oleg Kashin, a columnist at the Kommersant daily.

Boris Nemtsov, an opposition leader, said Mr Medvedev's proposals were welcome but insufficient, adding that the rally tomorrow would continue to push for a repeat election.