Medvedev warns against upsetting stability
MOSCOW - The Associated Press
Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev makes his annual state of the nation address at the Kremlin in Moscow December 22, 2011. REUTERS PhotoPresident Dmitry Medvedev on Thursday responded to the wave of protests over fraud-tainted elections by proposing a set of reforms to liberalize Russia's political system, but sternly warned that the government won't allow "provocateurs and extremists" to undermine stability.
Medvedev said in his state-of-the nation address that Russia "needs democracy, not chaos" and that the government would strongly resist any foreign pressure.
The statement follows massive rallies against fraud in the Dec. 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 this weekend.
The protests dented the power of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and signaled that his bid to reclaim the presidency in next March's election may not be as trouble-free as had been thought.
Both Putin and Medvedev, who has been his loyal placeholder, firmly rejected the calls for a rerun, saying the vote reflected the people's will.
"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," Medvedev said Thursday.
While defending the vote results, Putin has suggested easing the tight controls on Russia's political life he introduced during his two presidential terms in 2000-2008.
He said last week he would support easing the draconian rules of registration for political parties and restoring the direct elections of governors he abolished years ago. Putin added, however, that the president would retain the power to approve gubernatorial candidates, a provision that would make the election token.
Medvedev repeated the pledge to return to direct elections of governors and spelled out 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 â€” a procedure that would significantly simplify the current arcane procedure that makes it easy for authorities to deny registration to radical opposition groups.
The radical opposition, however, would only be able to take advantage of the new procedure in the next parliamentary election five years from now.