Allies want to extend Putin rule -Communist leader

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MOSCOW, Oct 19 (Reuters) Allies of the Kremlin want to turn Russia's December parliamentary election into a political coup to prolong President Vladimir Putin's rule, Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov said in an article published today.

The head of Russia's biggest opposition party warned that any attempt by Putin to hang on to power when he steps down as president in May could result in turmoil.

In the article on the party website (www.kprf.ru), Zyuganov attacked a statement by the main pro-Kremlin party, United Russia, which described the election as a ''national referendum in support of Vladimir Putin''.

''The December 2 vote is a vote for Putin,'' United Russia leader Boris Gryzlov said in the statement published by the government daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta on Wednesday. ''Vladimir Putin will remain the national leader whatever post he holds.'' Putin, who is coming to the end of the second of two consecutive presidential terms allowed by the constitution, has refused to reveal his plans.

But he has said he intends to remain in politics to make sure his successor sticks to his policies.

Earlier this month he agreed to head United Russia's party list, positioning himself as an informal leader of the party sure to win the majority of seats in the lower house, but also hinting he could become prime minister.

''The election is not a referendum,'' Zyuganov said, in an attack on Gryzlov who suggested that Putin could continue ruling Russia from a parliamentary power base. ''Such an interpretation violates the constitution.'' ''Gryzlov's article is in fact a manifesto for an authoritarian coup,'' he added. ''Only authoritarianism allows a situation when a person has dictatorial powers without holding the top official post.'' Putin, who has presided over years of economic growth, is the most popular politician in Russia. Liberal critics blame him for concentrating too much political power in his own hands.

Putin's allies have warned that Russia's stability will be at risk after his departure. But Putin has so far rejected their calls to amend the constitution and allow himself a third term.

Analysts say Putin, who will be allowed to run for president in the 2014 election or even earlier if his successor resigns before the end of his term, might prefer to install a proxy president and continue ruling from behind the scenes.

Speculation about Kremlin plans to give more authority to the prime minister, parliamentary speaker or the secretary of the security council, turning them into rivals to the president, continues to circulate in Moscow despite official denials.

United Russia is expected to win more than 60 percent of the vote in the Dec. 2 election, according to the latest opinion polls, while the Communists are likely to come second with around 17 percent.

REUTERS RSA RN2252

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