By Gleb Bryanski
SMOLENSK, Russia - Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Thursday accused opposition parties of selling seats in parliament, in the strongest attack yet on political opponents ahead of a December parliamentary election.
The accusations come in response to opposition parties' criticisms of a proposed law designed to boost political competition by making so-called primaries mandatory for all parties before forming lists for the Duma lower house of parliament election.
The law will force other parties to hold a vote similar to one that United Russia carried out on orders from Putin who seeks to revitalize his party, dominated by bureaucrats, and bring in fresh faces.
"Only those parties who sell their seats are against holding a primary vote," Putin told the winners of an internal United Russia's primary vote in Smolensk, 380 km west of Moscow, in an uncharacteristic attack on political opponents.
United Russia holds 315 out of 450 Duma seats, allowing it to change the Constitution.
Officials at three other political parties represented in the Duma - the Communists, ultra-nationalist LDPR and socialist Just Russia - criticized the proposal, saying it was an interference in party affairs.
LDPR said it will complain to President Dmitry Medvedev over Putin's initiative while liberal Right Cause mocked the name "primaries" borrowed from the U.S. political life and said the December election was to the Duma and not the U.S. Congress.
Political parties said United Russia's primaries were carefully orchestrated but the party leadership responded saying that many prominent United Russia members lost the primary vote and will not be included in the party list.
"(The opposition does) not want to develop democracy in our country, but that is their business. United Russia will not enforce the primary vote. But if they do not want it, it will lead to stagnation in the society."
"Only those organizations which are not afraid of open competition, only they will survive, they will have all the chances for development, for (gaining) support from the country's population," Putin said.
The parliamentary poll will precede the presidential election in March 2012 in which both Putin and Medvedev have hinted they may take part.
Putin is seeking to strengthen popular support for his party through a creation of the so-called All-Russia People's Front, which should help renew United Russia. The Front members will receive 1/4 of places on the United Russia party list.
Natalya Sementsova, a physics teacher from Smolensk who won the primary vote, told Putin that political parties in the Duma have become detached from real life. "People do not understand what is happening there and do not care."
"You got to the point," Putin said.