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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Helps Party but Not Party System

Although I was an initiator of the establishment of United Russia, like the overwhelming majority of my countrymen I am not a member of any party, and I do not wish to change this," President Vladimir Putin told delegates at the United Russia convention Monday.

While Putin's subsequent comment that he might become prime minister when he leaves office next year caused the biggest stir, his words about party membership revealed the most about his manner of governing.

Since coming to power in 2000, Putin has regularly said the development of a mature, effective, democratic party system is one of the Kremlin's main objectives.

This was the rationale provided when State Duma elections were switched to a full proportional-representation format after the last vote in 2003, removing the option of voting for candidates in single-mandate districts.

Critics argue the change was made to ensure the Kremlin's control of the Duma, and mounting evidence supports their case.

There is little question that Rodina, with nationalist politician Dmitry Rogozin as one of its leaders, was founded with Kremlin help to siphon support away from the Communist Party ahead of the 2003 elections. When the party began acting independently afterward, it ran into trouble, with Rogozin ultimately being pushed out of its ranks.

Rodina has since been folded into the newly founded A Just Russia party, safely placing it under the pro-Kremlin stewardship of party leader and Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov.

A steady stream of opposition parties have been denied registration or had their registration revoked during Putin's tenure, while those retaining their party status have been stripped of the right to participate in various regional elections.

It is clear that the authorities have been more interested in seeing some parties develop than others. But Putin's own actions may have undercut the development of a real party system the most.

By openly declaring his support for United Russia ahead of the 2003 elections and accepting the top spot on its ticket for the election in December, Putin has surely bolstered the party's success. That success has translated into a rubber-stamp Duma always prepared to do the Kremlin's bidding.

By refusing actually to join the party, however, Putin has insulated himself from any danger that a fall in its popularity could harm his own image -- and power. The party's decision to change its charter Monday to allow a nonmember to run on its list is just an obvious sign that the party serves the president, not the other way around.

Monday's developments are the latest in an opportunistic, hypocritical approach that has served the interests of Putin and his coterie in the Kremlin but done little to help develop a mature, effective, democratic party system in the country.