Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Monday called for a renewal of Russian democracy, in his latest manifesto before presidential polls where he will seek to extend his 12 year domination of the country.
In an apparent response to a protest movement that has swept the country since disputed parliamentary polls in December, Putin said that Russia's political system must adjust to the needs of a growing civil society.
But analysts expressed scepticism, noting that Putin himself was responsible for implementing Russia's highly-centralised political system and his comments appeared pre-election rhetoric aimed at calming disgruntled voters.
"Our civil society has become incomparably more mature, active and responsible. We need to update the mechanism of our democracy. They must fit in growing public activity," he wrote in an article published on his campaign website and in the business broadsheet Kommersant.
"The majority of people need to feel they are citizens and be ready to regularly pay attention and spend time and effort taking part in government," he said.
"Democracy in a big country is made up of the democracies of small areas. Local government is a school of responsibility for citizens," he wrote, calling for municipal authorities to have greater autonomy from the Kremlin.
After the opposition movement has turned to the Internet to raise support and coordinate protest, Putin called for the parliament to be obliged to discuss any public petition that managed to gather 100,000 signatures online.
In the piece -- his fourth campaign article -- Putin stressed that direct elections of regional governors would be reintroduced, a system he eliminated under his presidency in 2004 citing security fears.
But at the same time in more typical strongman rhetoric, he said Russia must avoid "the temptation to simplify politics, to create a fictitious democracy" and insisted it needed a "strong, effective and respected federal centre."
"In reality all his ideas and proposals are simply cosmetic changes which do not change a single principle, the principle of a monopoly on power," Lilia Shevtsova of the Moscow Carnegie Center told AFP.
"These are cosmetic and simply tactical concessions, they do not contain any real movement."
"This is just pre-electoral populism pure and simple," said Dmitry Oreshkin, an independent analyst and founder member of the Voters' League umbrella group that is monitoring the polls.
Putin "understands that something is changing in society and that to get votes he needs to show flexibility and a readiness to consider the demands of society," he said.
"If the article about democracy was written at least before the parliamentary polls ... it could be discussed seriously. But it is written now," journalist Oleg Kashin said on Kommersant FM radio.
The premier is facing his worst legitimacy crisis with tens of thousands taking to the streets after his ruling party won disputed parliamentary polls in a wave of protests unseen since the early 1990s.
Opposition activists said more than 120,000 people braved frosty weather to attend an opposition rally on Saturday, the budding protest movement's third since December.
Putin has written four articles since January on subjects including Russia's economy and illegal immigration, although he has refused to take part in the candidates' televised debates which begin Monday evening.
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