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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

United Russia Seeks Support of 1 in 4

In a move designed to essentially re-create the Soviet Communist Party system, United Russia intends to increase its support base to 30 million ahead of the presidential election in 2008, a senior party member said Monday.

"We want more people to support our party. This is a normal ambition for any political party," Oleg Kovalyov, chairman of the State Duma's Management Committee, said by telephone.

"Supporters are those who back the party in the regions. They are the link between the party and its voters," Kovalyov said.

Delegates at a United Russia congress last week voted to endorse an ambitious program that envisions the number of supporters who are not party members growing from a current 500,000 to 3 million by the 2007 Duma elections and then skyrocketing to 30 million -- or about one in four Russians -- by the the time of the presidential election in early 2008.

United Russia currently has more than 1 million members. It is not necessarily looking to sign up more members, just supporters whom it can count on to vote for the party and back its Kremlin-sponsored initiatives.

Kovalyov argued that the growth goal was realistic, noting that some 22 million people voted for United Russia in the last Duma elections, in 2003.

"But we have sober minds, and we understand that we can only reach this target if we work hard," Kovalyov said. "We need to give people a good reason to trust us."

United Russia, which dominates the Duma and political life, has no ideology other than to support the president.

The party's plans suggest it is aiming to reinstate a system similar to that of the Soviet era, when people had to join the Communist Party to ensure successful careers, analysts said.

"Joining this party [United Russia] will soon be a must to establish a political career and, in the long run, any career," Dmitry Furman, a political analyst with the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said in a column published Thursday in Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

However, United Russia differs from the Communist Party in that it does not enjoy real power or the assurance that the country's leader is under its control, said Yury Korgunyuk, a political analyst with Indem, a think tank.

"The Soviet Communist Party had real power, decisions were made by the Party's committees," he said.

"United Russia does not make a single decision. It cannot call the Kremlin and order it to do something," he said. "We are getting a party that will be a mere tool that the Kremlin can use to exert its power."

Furman said the president could not control every last person in the country and check his or her loyalty to the Kremlin -- and that is where United Russia comes in. "A person who joins United Russia declares that he is ready to serve those in power," Furman said.

Korgunyuk predicted that United Russia would find 30 million supporters, but "not one of them will believe in the party."

The Soviet Communist Party had 22 million members in its heyday.

United Russia was established in February 2002 through the merger of two parties, Unity and Fatherland-All Russia.