December 4, 2007 / 12:25 PM / 12 years ago

Putin loyalists to hold sway in Russia parliament

MOSCOW (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin’s supporters will have complete control over parliament, figures from Sunday’s election showed, and U.S. President George W. Bush told the Kremlin chief he had “sincere” concerns over the vote.

Members of the pro-Kremlin youth movement Nashi (Ours) rally in support of Russian President Vladimir Putin in front of St Basils Cathedral off Red Square in Moscow, December 3, 2007. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko

Election officials said on Tuesday the vote would translate into 393 seats in the 450-seat parliament for pro-Kremlin parties, giving Putin a power base when he leaves office next year and the option to change the constitution if he chooses.

Bush said the election — which an influential group of foreign observers said was not fair — came up in a telephone conversation with Putin. “I said we were sincere in our expressions of concern about the election,” Bush told reporters at a Washington news conference.

Central Election commission chairman Vladimir Churov said Putin’s United Russia would have 315 seats in the next parliament, while two parties sympathetic to the Kremlin will between them have a further 78 seats.

Putin, 55, has said he expects to maintain a grip on power after he steps down next year in line with a constitutional two-term limit.

Analysts say control of parliament will give him the clout to exercise influence without the trappings of presidential power. They speculate he could become the chamber’s speaker.

The pro-Putin contingent in the next parliament will be big enough to change the constitution — something analysts say Putin may seek to do to carve out a powerful role for himself when he steps down early next year.

Putin ran in the election as No. 1 on United Russia’s election slate. The result confirmed his popularity as a leader who has overseen robust economic growth, and helped restore Russia’s national pride.

United Russia had 297 seats in parliament at the end of the outgoing parliament.

Churov told reporters the nationalist LDPR party will have 40 seats and Fair Russia 38 seats in the new chamber. Putin can count on both those parties for support. The opposition Communists will have 57 seats.

QUESTIONS UNANSWERED

The constitution bans Putin from serving a third consecutive term. Russians and foreign investors are still seeking answers to the key questions of what he will do when his term ends next year, and whom he will endorse to replace him.

An international observer mission said Sunday’s vote was marred by one-sided media coverage and the use of government resources to favor pro-Kremlin parties.

In a statement issued late on Monday, Russia’s foreign ministry, said that assessment “gave rise to serious doubts.”

“The Russian side will carefully study all views and recommendations that have been made with the aim of taking them properly into account — in those cases where this is appropriate.”

But it said a joint statement by observers from democracy watchdogs the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Council of Europe contained “a collection of slogans not backed up with any hard facts.”

Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Richard Balmforth

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