The Communist-dominated State Duma, the lowerhouse of Russia’s parliament, voted 271-115 on April 17 to reject thenomination of Sergei Kirienko as prime minister of Russia. That vote setthe stage for a showdown with President Boris Yeltsin, whose nominee has nowbeen twice defeated. A third defeat , in a vote set for April 24, wouldallow the president to dismiss the Duma and call new elections. Beforeleaving for Japan over the weekend, President Yeltsin said he would exercisethat option.

Kirienko’s nomination appears to be losing ground. In the first ballot, onApril 10, Kirienko had 28 more votes in his favor and 95 fewer against him.He is now 111 votes short of the 226 needed to win. But a change inprocedure had more to do with the shifting results than any reassessment ofKirienko. The first ballot was closed, with deputies voting in secret. TheApril 17 ballot, however, was open and recorded. That made Duma deputiesmuch more responsive to party leaders.

In the Russian system, most Duma seats are allotted to parties or organizedfactions in proportion to their share of the popular vote. A Duma deputywho owes his seat to the party crosses the leadership at his peril. So whenthe votes were recorded last Friday, the four factions in the Communist-ledopposition, which together control 262 of the Duma’s 450 seats, gaveKirienko a total of only 11 votes. The market-oriented Yabloko group (44seats) gave Kirienko no votes at all. Nearly all of Kirienko’s support camefrom two factions, Russia Is Our Home and Russian Regions, which togetherhold 109 seats. In an open ballot, parties count.

Will the third and decisive vote on April 24 be open or shut? Probablyshut, said Duma President Gennady Seleznev, one of the few Communist Partydeputies who supports the Kirienko nomination. (Seleznev, who abstained lastFriday, says keeping the Duma in office is “a thousand times more important”than defeating Kirienko.) If that is so, most observers say Kirienko standsan excellent chance of winning confirmation.

Duma deputies have every reason to believe President Yeltsin will dissolvethe Duma if it rejects his nominee. The deputies recall that just fiveyears ago, Yeltsin used tanks and artillery to assert presidentialprerogative against an obstreperous parliament. Last week, Yeltsin addedthe threat that any new election to the Duma would be held under new rulesthat would end party-list voting and award all seats to winners inelection-district races. The power of the president to change electionrules by decree is open to legal challenge, but party leaders have to takethe threat seriously. Analysts say the switch to district voting wouldsharply reduce Communist representation and probably eliminate the LiberalDemocrats entirely.

Kirienko insists, meanwhile, that he is not worried and will not bargainover the make-up of a new cabinet. Candidates have already been named forhalf the ministries, including Defense, Interior, Finance, and ForeignAffairs, so there is not that much on the table. No doubt there will besome intense political bargaining over the next four days, but wheeling anddealing will count for less than raw political power.


• Tatarstan, part 1: Tatarstan last week became the second region in theRussian Federation to allow the free sale of land. The first, Saratov,enacted its land law in February. Tatarstan went beyond Saratov by allowingforeign individuals and corporations to become land owners under certainconditions. At the federal level, President Yeltsin has twice vetoedparliamentary bills that would severely restrict the sale of agriculturalland, and the country remains without a comprehensive land code.

• Tatarstan, part 2: The Brezhnev-era Kama River Auto Factory that turnedout the trucks that carried Soviet troops into Afghanistan is virtuallydefunct. Last year, KamAZ produced about 12,000 trucks, less than 10% ofrated capacity — and lost an average of $10,000 on each. The plant is $1billion in debt, including $100 million to the European Bank forReconstruction and Development. The collapse of KamAZ leaves 100,000workers without jobs in Tatarstan, where the plant is located.

• Trading up: A U.S. government team visited Moscow earlier this month todiscuss Russia’s bid for membership in the World Trade Organization.American officials say the Russian offer is still far short of WTOrequirements. Russia has high tariffs in many sectors, and trade rules lackconsistency and transparency. Bilateral trade was only $7.5 billion in