Putin may head Russia's dominant party, lawmakers say

(dpa) - Vladimir Putin may head Russia's dominant party when he steps down as president next month, Russian lawmakers were quoted as saying Monday.

"I, along with all of my colleagues, will invite Putin to lead the party. It would be an ideal outcome," said the speaker of Russia's State Duma Boris Gryzlov, news agency Interfax reported.

Speaker of Russia's upper house Sergei Mironov in an interview with business daily Kommersant on Monday said Putin could agree to head Russia's largest party at its congress on April 14-15.

"I would not be surprised if the Kremlin leadership of United Russia in the near future was even more personified at the very highest level," Mironov told the newspaper.

Gryzlov, who also currently heads Putin's party, said that when the Kremlin leader decided to run on United Russia's ticket in December's parliamentary elections, he "de-facto became the party leader."

In a pre-election campaign craze the popular Putin was hailed as "National Leader" and Russian celebrities and most all of its political elite lined up behind United Russia's platform of preserving "Putin's Course."

The party's landslide election win - 315 out of the house's 450 seats - was seen as part of a larger Kremlin project for Putin to retain power at the end of his second constitutionally mandated term.

Putin's hand-picked successor Dmitry Medvedev, 42, easily won Russia's presidential elections two months later after Putin, 55, promised to become his prime minister.

Analysts question whether Medvedev will be an independent leader under the new power constellation.

Under Russian law, Medvedev's choice of prime minister must be approved by the upper house within the first two weeks of his taking office. Russia's president can then fire the prime minister but needs the approval of the parliament for a new appointment.

In Monday's press conference, Gryzlov shared his conviction that Russia's lawmakers would "immediately endorse" Putin as prime minister on May 8, just one day after Medvedev's inauguration.

Such a scenario would have Prime Minister Putin both as head of government and leader of the party that holds a huge parliamentary majority. He will likely become the most powerful prime minister in Russia's history raising doubts about the balance of power.

Lawmakers Gryzlov and Mironov on Monday also voiced their opinion that it would be unseemly for president-elect Medvedev to join a political party.

"The president should, in my opinion, be a non-party figure. Perhaps this would be better also for the prime minister. But I understand why Vladimir Putin could head United Russia," said Federation Council speaker Mironov.

Mironov is also the head of pro-Kremlin party A Just Russia, which competed with United Russia in the December elections.

Putin for years refused to join a political party although he contributed to founding United Russia and appeared at several of its party congresses.

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