Putin ally named speaker of Russian upper house

AFP , Wednesday 21 Sep 2011

Valentina Matviyenko, an ally of Prime Minister Putin, elected as the first female speaker of the Russian Upper House

Russia's upper house of parliament, which is dominated by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's United Russia party, elected a Putin ally as its speaker on Wednesday, replacing the leader of a rival party.

Lawmakers in the 166-seat Federation Council approved Valentina Matviyenko, 62, in a 140-0 vote with one abstention. Matvieynko, a former governor of Putin's native St Petersburg, becomes the first woman in the role.
The Federation Council has limited powers and is largely seen as a rubber-stamp body that approves laws passed by the State Duma lower house. Matviyenko replaces Sergei Mironov, leader of the Just Russia party, who was ousted from the speaker's post in May.

To join the Federation Council, Matviyenko had to step down as governor of St Petersburg, where she had become unpopular. Removing her from that job could help the ruling party in St Petersburg in elections for the Duma on 4 December.

Polls suggest Putin's party may have trouble retaining its two-thirds Duma majority in the December vote, which precedes a March 2012 presidential election in which he may seek to return to the Kremlin.

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