MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Andrei Vavra) - At the recent congress of the United Russia party, Vladimir Putin accepted the offer to head the party upon completion of his presidential term. The congress has unanimously elected him party chairman. He will assume the party leadership on May 7.
But the project of turning United Russia into a party of government is far from complete. While heading the party, Putin will preserve his status of independent politician. Being the party leader without being a member is a unique situation. In a word, this is but a small step towards completing the formation of a political system in Russia.
Incidentally, before Putin agreed to head the party, United Russia amended its charter to allow him to occupy this position without membership. In other words, he was invited to lead the party on special terms.
What explains this incomplete merger?
There is a serious gap between the public's support for Putin and for United Russia. In December, Putin considerably helped the party by heading its voting list. As a result, the party received several dozen percent more votes, an overwhelming advantage over its rivals, and a landslide victory at the parliamentary elections. But we will not have any elections it the next four years, and United Russia no longer needs extra support. Now it should try to match Putin's ratings, and prevent them from falling. The ball is now in the party's court - now it is its turn to work for Putin. I'm not talking about increasing his ratings but about maintaining them at the current level.
The congress was a pompous event, and discussion of problems seemed inappropriate. However, Putin again started talking about problems, just as he did when he was offered to head the voting list.
Accepting the proposal to head United Russia, Putin said that the party definitely requires change: "It should become more open to debate with due account of the opinion of the voters; it should be completely freed of red tape; and it should be cleansed of odd people pursuing their own personal aims and interests. It should pay more attention to working with young people, intellectuals, businessmen, workers and farmers."
All things considered, it seems that Putin continues to worry about the state of affairs in the party, its personnel policy, and its image in the eyes of the voters. Despite its dominance in representative agencies all along the line, he seems to be convinced that it has not yet become an effective political organization, matching the standards of traditional democracies.
Apparently, Putin will put things in order, and modernize the party. There is certainly much room for improvement. He is also likely to be rather tough, because his own prestige is at stake. United Russia will be in for a thorough spring-cleaning. For now its members are rejoicing at his leadership, but they may soon experience very different emotions.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of Trend.