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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

United Russia Casts Net in Regions

With President Vladimir Putin planning to nominate regional leaders for confirmation by local legislatures, the pro-Kremlin United Russia party is scrambling to take control of most regional legislatures by the end of the year, party officials said Monday.

United Russia now has factions in two-thirds of the country's 88 legislatures and has a majority of seats in 12, but it intends to increase its presence even more, said United Russia Deputy Oleg Kovalyov, chairman of the State Duma's Management Committee.

"This is an important issue for us, especially now that regional legislatures will have to vote for gubernatorial candidates," Kovalyov said. "It is important to have a faction in every legislature so we can push for our policies at not only the federal level but the regional level as well.

"It is difficult work, but the chances of success are good," he said.

Political analysts concurred that the power grab would be easy, as most politicians these days are eager to join the so-called party of power in bids to secure their political futures. Ten governors and 12 Federation Council senators obtained their party membership cards last week, and at least 20 more governors are waiting in line.

The clamor to get on board the United Russia bandwagon comes after Putin this month announced plans to scrap the popular vote for regional leaders in favor of a system under which he submits them to local legislatures for confirmation. Putin also said he intends to get rid of individual races in Duma elections.

The moves are part of a Kremlin attempt to strengthen the executive chain of command, ostensibly to make the country stronger after recent terrorist attacks killed more than 400 people.

Putin submitted bills to change the election system Monday to the United Russia-controlled Duma.

Regional lawmakers contacted Monday said they had little doubt that United Russia would quickly make big inroads in the regions.

Alexei Zhirnov, head of the Tambov regional legislature's committee for social problems and a United Russia member, said plans are afoot to give United Russia members a stronger voice in the legislature.

He said 24 of the legislature's 49 lawmakers belong to United Russia, while two others back the party's initiatives.

Vladimir Nikitin, speaker of the Kaliningrad legislature, said the chamber has two main factions: United Russia and a regional faction that is not affiliated with any political party.

"Those lawmakers have been invited to join United Russia. Although they say, 'Our party is the best,' this is how things work all over the world," he said.

United Russia does not have the majority yet, but "it will get one very soon," he said.

In Irkutsk, violence broke out in a campaign for the regional legislature when two campaigners for the nationalist-populist Rodina party were shot dead. Marina Marakhovskaya and Yan Travinsky were killed overnight by an unidentified gunman, news agencies reported Monday.

Rodina leader Dmitry Rogozin called the murders political. He would not name possible suspects, but said people with links to the local authorities may be interested in sidelining the party.

If United Russia manages to dominate regional legislatures in addition to the Duma, the Kremlin will be assured that its gubernatorial candidates get elected, political analysts said.

Most independent regional lawmakers are already members of United Russia, said Alexei Titkov, a regional analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center. "It won't be difficult for United Russia to convince the others to join," he said.

Unlike Duma deputies, regional lawmakers are allowed to keep their old jobs. Sometimes even the heads of key committees such as budget or finance are big local businessmen, Titkov said.

This means that many regional legislatures are filled with lawmakers who have little interest in politics other than using it as a tool to further their business interests, analysts said. These lawmakers are especially eager to join United Russia, said Vladimir Pribylovsky, head of the Panorama think tank.

In addition, Pribylovsky said, lawmakers see the party as "guaranteed power because the Kremlin has made it clear that in elections those who are United Russia members can enjoy so-called administrative resources -- which include favorable coverage on state television and public endorsements from top government officials.

"In the regions, people are fighting to join United Russia because this means support and power," he said.

A clear example of how lawmakers strive to join United Russia can be seen in numerous regional elections this year, Titkov said. Candidates running in the same district have often fought over who would get the right to run on the United Russia ticket, he said.