- Medvedev calls for a larger role for citizens in politics
- Recent protests in Moscow focused on what some say were rigged parliamentary elections
- Putin is running for president again in 2012
In an apparent attempt to address popular discontent following the recent parliamentary elections in Russia, President Dmitry Medvedev announced sweeping political reform in his fourth -- and last -- annual state-of-the-nation speech Thursday.
Medvedev said he hears those "who are talking about the need for change" and understands them, agreeing that "all active citizens should be given a legal opportunity" to play a larger role in the country's political life.
Speaking before the newly elected parliament members in the Kremlin's St.George Hall, Mevdedev proposed that Russia return to direct elections of regional governors, simplify the registration of political parties and presidential candidates, and establish a new editorially-independent national public TV channel.
In essence, Medvedev called for lifting many of the political restrictions imposed in the past several years by his predecessor, Vladimir Putin, Russia's current prime minister and the Kremlin candidate for the March 2012 presidential elections.
In addition to the modernization of Russia's political system, Medvedev announced a number of new anti-corruption measures and called the redistribution of power and financial resources from the federal government to local governments across the country.
At the same time, he rejected widespread public criticism of the parliamentary elections December 4, which were reportedly marred by fraud and other irregularities, and blamed anti-Kremlin opposition figures for their "attempts to manipulate the people and foment social discord."
"We will not allow instigators and extremists to involve society in their reckless schemes, nor will we tolerate interference in our internal affairs from the outside," Medvedev said. "Russia needs democracy, not chaos. We need to have a faith for the future and justice. It is a good sign that society is changing, and citizens are expressing their position more actively, setting legitimate demands to the authorities. It is a sign that our democracy is growing more mature."
On December 10, tens of thousands of people across Russia turned out to protest the election results that returned Putin's ruling United Russia party to power, but with a smaller majority. Police estimated crowds in Moscow at 25,000, while organizers said at least twice as many participated. In either case, the protests were the largest in the past two decades. Claiming the results of parliamentary elections were rigged, protesters chanted "Putin out." A similar protest is scheduled to take place in Moscow next Saturday.
Despite a mostly positive reaction to Medvedev's speech, a number of opposition figures have told Russian media his latest proposals wouldn't have have been made, had there not been a strong public demand for change. And, they said, he still didn't address the issue of what the authorities are planning to do about the recent alleged voting fraud, as well as whether fair and free elections are guaranteed in the future.