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Russia elections won't pave the way for a Putin dictatorship

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Putin stepped down as Russia’s president in 2008, became prime minister, and remains the country’s most popular politician. He is widely seen as a man of the people, a veteran leader with a populist touch. His image is that of a fighter for the common man who can also stand toe-to-toe with other heads of state and negotiate successfully on Russia’s behalf.

His political party, however, has not fared so well. Critics have labeled the United Russia Party the “Party of Crooks and Thieves.”  Its missteps, mismanagement, and stultification have caused it to fall in the polls. To remain a leading voice, it was in need of a serious overhaul.

And that’s what Putin has done. Without much notice in the West, Putin reached out last May to allies, including civic groups and nongovernmental organizations, to form the Popular Front. His goal was to motivate the increasingly disillusioned electorate to back a refreshed and more unified ruling party.

The switch has helped. Opponents complain that the organization puts a new gloss on the old names and old faces of the past. But close examination reveals otherwise.

The Popular Front has turned out to be, well, popular. It has energized the fading United Russia Party by bringing new ideas and lots of new candidates – roughly half of the old guard has been replaced with newcomers. The party’s decline in the polls appears to have finally been reversed.

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