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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Shuffle Looms for Public Chamber

A loose deadline passed Sunday for President Vladimir Putin to submit nominations for the Public Chamber that would bring the first changes to the body since its inception in 2006.

Putin is to begin the process by nominating 42 members -- one-third of the total membership -- six months before the current body's term ends on Jan. 22. Those 42 selections will then choose another 42, who will then take part in filling out the final third of the chamber.

Putin was supposed to have announced his picks by Sunday, but missed the deadline.

A Public Chamber spokesman, who would not give his name, said Sunday evening the fact that Putin was late providing his list of nominees -- just as he was the first time around in 2005 -- was not a worry "as long as people aren't kept waiting too long."

In following its mandate to monitor the country's bureaucracy, the Public Chamber managed to contribute somewhat to the development of civil society, but was sometimes slow and unclear in its reaction to pressing issues, some members said.

At a chamber meeting, Putin promised members that some of them would be reappointed, said Vyacheslav Nikonov, one of the president's initial 42 appointments. "I remember he used the word 'succession,'" Nikonov said.

Only the members who demonstrated their usefulness and earned a degree of social recognition will be nominated again, Nikonov speculated, adding that the less active incumbents will likely be dropped.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was not immediately available for comment Friday.

Putin created the chamber following a number of moves to tighten the Kremlin's control over the political system in the wake of the Beslan hostage tragedy. He said the chamber's role would be to act as a check on officialdom, but much of its advice, which is nonbinding, has been ignored.

But chamber member Yelena Yershova, president of the Consortium of Women's Nongovernmental Organizations, said some of the chamber's proposals have had effect.

This year's budget, for example, is the first to provide funding, 500 million rubles (about $20 million), for the provision of homes to children who leave orphanages upon reaching adult age. Yershova said the funding was the result of pressure from the chamber's social development commission.

"We wrote letters to the finance minister," she said. "It was a proposal from our commission."

But other proposals, such as calls for political parties to broaden female representation in their top ranks, were less successful, Yershova said. She said United Russia and the Communists did send members to take part in a roundtable discussion on the issue, but that they have done little to change the gender balance in their leadership.

The chamber has avoided criticism of the Kremlin since its first session in January 2006. On Thursday, it sent a delegation to the pro-Kremlin Nashi group's camp on Lake Seliger, in the Tver region.

Grigory Tomchin, a member of the chamber's Competition, Economic Development and Entrepreneurship Commission, attempted to add a little levity to his comments at the Nashi gathering.

"If a woman in the driver's seat can put on her makeup at a speed of 100 kilometers per hour, then the road is good," he was quoted as saying by the chamber's press service.

Despite her mixed feelings on the effectiveness of the chamber's first two years, Yershova said she would accept an invitation to stay.

"I have never in my life turned down work," she said. "I think the Public Chamber is a useful agency. It provides an opportunity for contact between the authorities and civil society. ... We need each other."

Irina Rodnina, a Soviet-era Olympic figure skating gold medalist, and world champion rhythmic gymnast Alina Kabayeva are both unlikely to be asked to return as they are on United Russia's preliminary party lists for State Duma elections in December.

A statement from current member Andrei Przhezdomsky said that the chamber would play a role in monitoring the elections by setting up hotlines people can call to report suspected violations.

The chamber currently comprises 126 academics, religious leaders, billionaires, Olympic champions and artists. Putin's nominees will select a further 42 members to provide regional representation. Those 84 members will choose the rest, also from the regions.