Russian President Vladimir Putin announced plans for a "radically restructured" political system that would bolster his power by ending the popular election of governors and independent lawmakers, moves he portrayed as a response to this month's deadly seizure of a Russian school.
Under his plans, Putin would appoint all governors to create a "single chain of command" and would allow Russians to vote only for political parties rather than specific candidates in parliamentary elections. Putin characterized the changes as enhancing national cohesion in the face of a terrorist threat, while critics called them another step toward restoring the tyranny of the state 13 years after the fall of the Soviet Union.
"Under current conditions, the system of executive power in the country should not just be adapted to operating in crisis situations, but should be radically restructured in order to strengthen the unity of the country and prevent further crises," Putin said.
His plans must go through parliament, but the Kremlin controls more than two-thirds of the legislature directly, and two other political parties quickly endorsed the ideas. "It's the beginning of a constitutional coup d'etat," Sergei Mitrokhin, a former parliamentary leader from the liberal Yabloko party, said in an interview. "It's a step toward dictatorship. . . . These measures don't have anything to do with the fight against terrorism."
In an unusual rebuke of an ally, President Bush said he was concerned that Putin's moves to centralize power could undermine democracy.
The moves were the latest in a five-year campaign by Putin to consolidate power and neutralize potential opposition in the new Russia. Since coming into office at the end of 1999, Putin's government has taken over or closed all independent national television channels, established unrivaled dominance of both houses of parliament, reasserted control over the country's huge energy industry and jailed or driven into exile business tycoons who have defied him.
-- Peter Baker