(Adds details on Right Cause's platform, analyst comment,
* Reformists out of political mainstream under Putin
* Rare return of billionaire to politics
By Maria Tsvetkova
MOSCOW, June 25 The billionaire owner of
basketball's New Jersey Nets took charge of a pro-business
political party in his native Russia on Saturday, a move that
could help reformists marginalised under Prime Minister Vladimir
Mikhail Prokhorov, who earned his fortune in Russia's metals
industry before buying his way into the U.S. NBA basketball
league, said he planned to make the Right Cause party into the
main alternative to Putin's long-dominant United Russia.
Right Cause was formed just two years ago and has no seats
in parliament after reformist groups were eliminated from the
political maintream under Putin, president from 2000-2008.
Prokhorov said in an acceptance speech after being elected
Right Cause's leader that he hoped to make it the second-largest
party in parliament. Putin's United Russia has 315 seats in the
450-seat State Duma. The Communists are second with just 57.
Right Cause does not describe itself as an opposition party
and backs Putin's hand-picked Kremlin successor, President
Dmitry Medvedev, for another term.
Most experts believe Putin, who stepped aside after serving
two consecutive terms, plans to return to the Kremlin himself in
an election next year. Many reformists would prefer Medvedev to
stay on, believing he is more sympathetic to their cause.
BUSINESSMEN OUT OF POLITICS UNDER PUTIN
Prokhorov earned a fortune selling a stake in mining firm
Norilsk Nickel before the 2008 financial crisis. He
has big stakes in the world's largest aluminium producer RUSAL
and Russia's top gold miner, Polyus Gold .
His new role is the highest-profile move into politics by
one of Russia's powerful billionaires in nearly a decade.
Tycoons frequently held top political jobs under Boris
Yeltsin in the 1990s but have steered clear of politics under
Putin, especially since oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky was
imprisoned and stripped of his fortune in 2003.
"Our country is called the Russian Federation, but by
structure it is an empire. Only presidential power works here,
and this kind of governance cannot provide stability let alone
development," Prokhorov said in his acceptance speech.
"We need to take back parliament. In the near future become
the second largest party, and then later, the first," he said.
The 6-foot-8 (2-metre) Prokhorov told reporters Russia
should roll back some of the centralising changes to its
political system made under Putin, who abolished independent
seats in parliament and elections for regional and big city
bosses. Khodorkovsky should be freed on parole, he said.
Analysts said there was a place for a reformist party to
return to Russia's political stage, but were doubtful Right
Cause could muster enough popularity to place second in a
December parliamentary vote.
"In Russia there is demand for a liberal party that would
offer more civil liberties, stand against absolute power of the
government and corruption, and expend opportunities for
business," said political analyst Aleksey Makarkin.
"The question is how to successfully create a party like
that. Prokhorov was not involved in politics before. Will he
manage to make changes inside the party?" he said.
(Writing by Jessica Bachman; Editing by Peter Graff)