By Alfred Kueppers
MOSCOW (Reuters) - President Dmitry Medvedev pledged Saturday that a proposed job swap designed to return Vladimir Putin to the Kremlin next year for a third presidential term will not usher in an era of stagnation in Russia.
"They are trying to frighten us with stagnation," Medvedev told a studio audience made up largely of supporters from the United Russia party.
"I want to say a few words about that: it will not happen."
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced last month at a United Russia party congress that he would run for president in the March 2012 election, with his protege and 'tandem' political partner Medvedev replacing him as the head of a young reformist government.
Critics say his return to the Kremlin could herald an era of stagnation in the world's largest country.
While Putin continues to top polls as Russia's most trusted politician, support for his United Russia party is slipping ahead of the December 4 parliamentary election, when it hopes to place Medvedev in the prime minister's seat.
Dressed in a navy blue suit and an open collar shirt, the 46-year-old president addressed one of the few critical audience members who highlighted the malaise created by corruption, dependence on raw material exports and a lack of democratic institutions.
The president said he had worked to lessen these problems during his time in office.
"For this reason I see only one instrument, that will allow us to continue to work on this," Medvedev told the audience of about 200, in a talk show style event broadcast on state-run television.
"I say with complete candor: do not give up power."
The president also reiterated calls to overhaul the government and carry out further reforms.
"If we succeed in carrying out our political program... the Russian government will consist of entirely new people, and I think that this is absolutely essential for our country."
Prominent rights activists have said that the parliamentary vote would fall short of democratic standards and accused the state of dismantling the institution of democratic elections since Putin came to power.
(Reporting By Alfred Kueppers; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)