Sept 23 (Reuters) - Russia's ruling United Russia party, led by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, holds a national congress on Friday and Saturday to discuss a campaign programme for the Dec. 4 parliamentary election and to propose a 600-strong list of candidates.
Below are key facts about United Russia:
-- United Russia holds 315 of the 450 seats in the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, well above the two-thirds majority needed to secure Duma approval of legislation changing the Russian Constitution.
-- United Russia was created in 2001 in a merger of the Unity party, which was founded in 1999 to support Putin during his first stint as prime minister, and the Fatherland party of Yuri Luzhkov, Moscow's mayor at the time.
United Russia has 1.9 million members in a nation with a population of 142 million. Its symbol is a bear.
-- Putin became the party's leader shortly after the end of his second presidential term in May 2008, but he is not a member. Duma speaker Boris Gryzlov, who once said that the Duma was "not a place for discussions", is chairman of the party's Supreme Council and its day-to-day leader.
-- Since United Russia secured a two-thirds Duma majority in 2007, parliament has rubber-stamped bills backed by the executive branch.
In 2008, it approved a Kremlin-initiated change in the constitution making the presidential term six years instead of four, beginning with the president to be elected in March 2012.
-- Seventy-four of Russia's 83 regional governors are United Russia members. United Russia also controls 63 percent of the total seats in regional legislatures.
-- The party is seeking to retain its constitutional majority in the Dec. 4 vote but is facing growing criticism over its dominance of the Duma and politics nationwide.
Many critics including former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev have likened United Russia to the Soviet-era Communist Party, which was the only party allowed under the constitution.
Popular anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny has campaigned against United Russia on the Internet, calling on people to vote for any other political party.
-- An August poll by an independent agency indicated that United Russia could have received 54 percent of the vote if the election had been held at that time, compared with 59 percent ahead of the last election in December 2007.
United Russia received 64.3 percent of the vote in 2007, according to the official results.
-- Putin launched an umbrella organisation called the All-Russia People's Front in May 2011, in what analysts said was an attempt to improve United Russia's chances in the parliamentary election by bridging the gap between his own high approval ratings and the party's lower ratings. Putin said that the party needed "new faces".
Several organisations have joined the Front, among them trade unions, business lobbies and war veterans' movements.
Putin has said that 185 Front members who are not United Russia members will be included on the list of 600 candidates for the Duma election. Only 167 of the party's 315 current members of parliament will be included.
-- United Russia has not officially backed Putin or any potential candidate for the March 2012 presidential election.
-- Putin said on Sept. 21 that organisations that make up the People's Front as well as the party itself should focus on campaigning for United Russia.
-- The party has said it will take part in televised campaign debates this autumn. It drew criticism for staying away from debates before previous elections, saying it had nothing to discuss with its opponents.
(Reporting by Gleb Bryanski; Editing by David Stamp)
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