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What's behind Putin's drive for a 'unified civil front' in Russia

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'Fresh ideas, fresh proposals'

The front should recruit into its ranks all organizations and people "who are united by the idea to strengthen our country and by the wish to search for the most optimal ways of solving current problems," he added.

Putin spent much of the long weekend (Monday was Victory Day, a major holiday in Russia) meeting with business and social leaders to test the idea, which would include opening up as much as a third of United Russia's candidate lists to nonparty members affiliated with the new front. "United Russia needs an inflow of fresh ideas, fresh proposals, and fresh faces," he told journalists.

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United Russia, the state-backed political behemoth whose membership is packed with officials, has given Putin near undisputed control over most legislatures in Russia for nearly a decade, including a two-thirds majority in the Duma. But lately its public approval rating has slumped dramatically. The party, which won 67 percent in 2007 Duma elections, was supported by just 43 percent of Russians, according to an April survey by the independent Public Opinion Fund (FOM).

"Putin [who leads United Russia] aims to secure his own position in case of a poor showing by the party in the coming Duma elections," says Nikolai Petrov, an expert with the Carnegie Center in Moscow. "The idea is to add some fresh faces, so that the candidate list doesn't just consist of the same old dull bureaucrats and corrupt officials. It's just an electoral scheme."

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