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Friday, September 30, 2016

Putin names Volodin as new speaker of Russian parliament

September 23, 2016

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin named his top political strategist to serve as the speaker of the newly elected parliament Friday after an election that saw the main pro-Kremlin party strengthen its grip on the lower house.

Putin nominated Vyacheslav Volodin, the Kremlin's deputy chief of staff who oversaw the vote, as the State Duma's speaker. Volodin replaces Sergei Naryshkin, whom Putin appointed the new chief of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service a day earlier.

Volodin has been widely seen as the main architect of the Kremlin's domestic policies over the past five years, including a slew of laws that introduced tough punishment for taking part in unsanctioned protests and new restrictions on non-government organizations.

He has become known for his statement "there is no Russia without Putin." The Sept. 18 vote gave United Russia, the main party supporting Putin, 343 seats in the 450-seat lower house, a gain of more than 100 seats that raises it far above the two-thirds majority required to amend the constitution on its own.

Three other parties that had largely complied with the Kremlin's wishes saw their presence shrink: The Communists won 42 seats in the new Duma, a sharp drop from 92, the nationalist Liberal Democrats got 39 and the socialist Just Russia 23 seats.

While the three parties posture as the opposition, their fealty to the Kremlin was at full display Friday when Putin met with parliament leaders. They all enthusiastically hailed Volodin's candidacy and were openly pleading with the president to allow them to keep the committees they led in the old parliament despite their smaller presence.

The Duma will vote to appoint Volodin the speaker when it meets next month. While Volodin has largely stayed in the shadows, he is considered one of Russia's most influential officials, a puppet master who has directed the parliament's work.

Volodin got the Kremlin job after his predecessor, Vladislav Surkov, was held responsible for failing to prevent massive protests in Moscow against Putin's rule that were fueled by evidence of vote-rigging in Russia's 2011 parliamentary election.

This month's parliamentary election was generally seen as cleaner than the 2011 vote. Still, allegations of violations came from around the country on election day, including charges of ballot-box stuffing and "carousel voting," in which people are transported to several locations to cast multiple ballots.

Turnout was distinctly lower this time, less than 48 percent nationwide compared with 60 percent in 2011, reflecting broad apathy and dismay with the political process in Russia. While the Duma speaker's job is nominally considered the fourth most senior position in the Russian officialdom — following the posts of the president, the prime minister and the upper house speaker — its holders have wielded little influence compared to Kremlin and Cabinet officials.

Volodin in his previous position was considered far more influential than Naryshkin, and his nomination was seen by some political pundits as a demotion. Others said, however, that he could use the speaker's job to further raise his clout.

Dmitry Gudkov, an opposition politician who served in the previous Duma, said that the new job would give Volodin higher visibility and could be a sign that he's being groomed to succeed Putin in the future.

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