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Russia Enjoys Stability With Powerful President in 2000

2000 has seen a relatively tranquil and stable Russia with unusual economic growth, as President Vladimir Putin avoided abrupt cabinet reshuffles and adopted a series of drastic reform measures.

As the most popular politician in the post-Soviet Russia, Putin won a foregone victory in the presidential elections in March.

Since he came to power on the New Year's Eve after Boris Yeltsin's world-shocking resignation, Putin has been trying to realize his dream of restoring a strong Russia with a powerful presidency and a flourishing economy.

Drawing a lesson from his predecessor Yeltsin, who was always mired in fierce confrontation with the State Duma (the lower house of parliament), Putin found a strong supporter -- the pro-Kremlin electoral bloc Unity Movement established in October 1999 by Minister of Civil Defense and Emergency Situations Sergei Shoigu.

As Putin had expected, the Unity ranked second after the Russian Communist Party (RSP) in last December's parliamentary vote, resulting in a power reversion in the left-wing controlled lower house.

The Unity Party, proceeding from the electoral bloc Unity Movement, was established on May 27 and declared itself "Party of Presidential Authority" at the end of October.

With the backing of the pro-government party, Putin extended the olive branch to the RSP, the Russian Agriculture Party (RAP) and the liberal Yabloko party, which were always seen as " uncompromising" opposition to the authorities.

To show his stands of super-party and super-ideology, Putin voiced support to the main RSP leader Gennady Seleznyov in his bid to regain the post of chairman of the State Duma. He also frequently met with the leaders of various parliamentary factions on major issues, and sometimes held individual consultation with one of them when needed.

The confrontation between the government and the opposition has turned to "constructive cooperation" during the year, which contributes much to the Duma's approval of key bills proposed by the president and the government.

Although this change has brought up a relatively stable political situation in Russia in the outgoing year, it doesn't mean a concourse of the two sides, as the opposition still holds critical and negative attitude toward some governmental decisions.

In Putin's view, the feeble central power is the cause of the independent mind of regional rulers. To change the no-central- authority tendency in local governments, Putin divided the country into seven federal districts and appointed faithful officials as the Kremlin representatives to those districts.

Subsequently, the president proposed three bills on strengthening the presidential power and made them passed in both chambers of the parliament.

To comply with these laws, regional and territorial leaders in the Federation Council (the upper house of parliament) have been replaced by two permanently working representatives from each territory; the president has been granted the power to sack heads of territorial executive bodies and dismiss territorial parliaments on the grounds of court decisions; the provincial governors can fire mayors and local officials who are found to violate the law, but only the president has the right to dismiss the mayors of the capitals of the federal regions.

In an effort to appease angry regional leaders who were deprived of their seats in the upper house, Putin signed a decree on September 1 to set up the Russian State Council.

The new advisory body, chaired by the president and consisting of regional leaders, effectively alleviated the conflicts between the central authorities and local leaders.

Putin started a long-expected anti-corruption campaign to crack down on the so-called oligarchs, who played a significant role in the government's decisions and controlled mass media in the Yeltsin era.

Approved by Putin, the Russian General Prosecutor's Office arrested No.1 anti-Kremlin media tycoon Vladimir Gusinsky on charges of massive embezzlement and financial fraud in June and put him in the international wanted list in December.

Putin's firm stance on anti-corruption has won him public support despite strong criticism from other influential oligarchs, including billionaire power broker Boris Berezovsky and leader of the Union of Right Forces Boris Nemtsov.

To keep the consistency and stability of the major state policies, Putin avoided a great reshuffle in the cabinet left by Yeltsin. But many decisions of the Yeltsin government were corrected or even negated, as Putin pushed forward the reform.

Russia enjoyed an obvious economic recovery this year with a 7- percent growth rate, which is regarded as a result of rising world oil prices and a series of favorable reform measures adopted by Putin and his new government.

In spite of the Kursk submarine disaster in August, Putin obtained high public support rate of 70 percent at the end of this year, which has proved the broad recognition of his ruling policies.

However, Putin still has a long way to go as Russia is faced with many political and economic problems.

(People’s Daily 12/28/2000)

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