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    PUTIN'S NOMINEE FOR PRIME MINISTER AROUSES CONTROVERSY AMONG RUSSIAN POLITICIANS

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    MOSCOW, MARCH 1 (RIA NOVOSTI) - President Vladimir Putin's nominee for the prime ministerial post has aroused a controversy among Russian lawmakers.

    Dmitry Mezentsev, Vice Speaker of the Federation Council, or Russia's upper house of parliament, believes that Mikhail Fradkov is the man to guarantee the competence of an incoming Cabinet.

    "His nomination will serve as a guarantee of a realistic, considered, and competent governmental course, which, in its turn, will ensure that the [new] Cabinet of Ministers will be formed out of sensible people, ones who have a clear idea of the socio-economic situation in this country." Fradkov, who has until now been serving as the presidential ambassador to the European Union, boasts valuable diplomatic expertise, Mezentsev pointed out. "The fact that he is knowledgeable about world economic tendencies suggests that special attention will be paid to Russia's competitiveness and to its macroeconomic performance, without which ambitious tasks set by the President will be impossible to solve," said the Vice Speaker.

    Fradkov's expert knowledge of the inner workings of the government and its staff will be enough for Russian administrative reform to be successfully put into effect, Mezentsev believes.

    Oleg Morozov, Vice Speaker of the State Duma, or parliament's lower house, argues that the idea behind the President's choice is one of restaffing. The President and Parliament both anticipate that the appearance of new people will enable the government to make more energetic moves, said Morozov. He stressed the need for taking in new people with fresh perspectives, who would be able to come out with creative solutions in all areas of activity. "We don't want the public to have an impression that the same deck of cards is reshuffled over and over," he remarked.

    Valery Draganov, who heads the Duma Committee for Economic Policies, Entrepreneurship and Tourism, said he was certain that Fradkov as a premier would be effective in carrying out sensible and well-considered reforms in sectors like housing and communal services, public health, and education, as well as administrative and army reforms. This, in the lawmaker's view, will create the right conditions for the country's economic growth. In Draganov's judgement, Fradkov is also up to such a paramount task as the transformation of Russia's raw materials industries into processing ones. The MP also argues that Fradkov will make neither a far-left liberal premier nor a boringly conservative one.

    Communist Party Chairman Gennady Zyuganov said he had expected Putin to propose someone with a strong industrial background, but that the President had failed to meet his expectations. "I don't know this candidate personally, but I do know his track record - he has changed ten jobs over a span of just five years," he remarked. "If we ask the public, 998 in every 1,000 interviewees will have difficulty saying who Mikhail Fradkov is," said the Communist leader.

    Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the ultranationalist liberal Democratic Party, does not think, either, that Fradkov is the right man for the job. His major argument is that Fradkov has been involved with foreign trade throughout his career, and has no idea of the domestic economy's state.

    Communist Nikolai Kharitonov echoed Zhirinovsky's point that Fradkov's knowledge of foreign trade did not qualify him for the prime ministerial job, as the premier is the one in charge of the national economy. Kharitonov confirmed the information that, Fradkov would come to the lower house Tuesday to introduce himself to Duma factions, including the Communist faction.

    Sergei Ivanenko, first vice chair of the liberal Yabloko party, does not think the advent of Fradkov will bring about any dramatic change in the Cabinet's current economic course. "By appointing this technical premier, Putin is just taking on greater responsibility for the government's work, that's all," Ivanenko noted in a RIA interview. He pointed to the consolidation of the presidential branch alongside the promotion of liberal economic reform. "The impression is an ambivalent one," he said, referring to the enhancement of the presidential branch in parallel with economic innovations.

    Sergei Mitrokhin, another Yabloko MP, also reads Putin's choice as an attempt to strengthen the presidential influence on economic policies.

    "Putin is breaking up with old elites to bring the situation in the government under his control," Mitrokhin told the RIA news agency.

    Irina Khakamada, a right-wing MP running for the presidency as an independent candidate, is rather neutral about the nomination. "This is a well-disciplined career civil servant. He is not associated with any specific ideology or party. He is neutral, and won't determine the course," Khakamada said in a comment for RIA Novosti.

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