Putin ally wants a new liberal party

Putin ally wants a new liberal party

Former finance minister Alexei Kudrin's proposal, if it gains support, could offer a way for Putin to channel discontent and reduce the threat posed by the biggest opposition protests since he took power in 1999.

  But Kudrin also warned that the legitimacy of a presidential election Putin is expected to win in March would be undermined by any failure to address protesters' allegations of fraud in a parliamentary election on December 4. That poll, he said, had shown the need for a strong liberal alternative to the ruling party.

“Today it is clear that this deficit is even more dire than we could have imagined," said Kudrin, a fiscal hawk forced out in September after a dispute with President Dmitry Medvedev over lavish state military spending plans.

“Today one can say that the demand for the creation of such a structure is so high that it will certainly begin to be created,” Kudrin said in an interview published by the financial daily Vedomosti.

Tens of thousands of Russians protested on Saturday over the December 4 election they said was rigged in favour of United Russia.

Voters vented frustration with the entrenched ruling party by sharply reducing its majority in the State Duma lower house. But the protesters say even United Russia's official result, just under 50 percent of the vote, was inflated by fraud.

Many protesters in the diverse crowds across Russia on Saturday were representatives of a new middle class of moderately wealthy professionals who are unhappy with a tightly controlled political system dominated by a single man.

“The process of the consolidation of liberal and democratic forces will now go forward. I am absolutely certain of this, and I myself am ready to support this,” Kudrin said.

Growing discontent

Aware of growing discontent among politically savvy professionals eager for a stronger voice, the Kremlin turned to Kudrin early this year with a proposal that he lead a liberal, pro-business party that could counterbalance United Russia. He rejected the offer, and an effort to turn the small Right Cause party into a significant force collapsed in acrimony between the Kremlin and the man chosen to lead it, billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov.

 Russian tycoon throws hat into ring

Russian metals tycoon and US basketball team owner Mikhail Prokhorov said Monday he intended to challenge Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in next year's presidential elections, report agencies from Moscow.

 “I have made the most serious decision of my life. I am running for president,” Prokhorov told reporters.

 The owner of NBA's New Jersey Nets basketball team had previously made a short-lived effort to challenge Putin's United Russia party in this month's parliamentary elections.

He later resigned from his own party following an internal power struggle that he blamed on the Kremlin.

 The Right Cause party finished with less than one percent of the vote.

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