There have been reports that not everyone in Fatherland-All Russia is happy about the merger with Unity: Sources close to Yevgeny Primakov were quoted earlier this week as saying that he was unhappy about having been shunted aside (Moscow Times, April 16). On the other hand, the consolidation efforts got a boost on April 17, when Unity, Fatherland-All Russia and two other pro-Kremlin factions in the State Duma (Russia’s Regions and People’s Deputy), announced that they were setting up a coordinating council to formalize their cooperation and eventually set up a coalition. Primakov said the four groups would coordinate their positions on legislation proposed by President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov’s cabinet. The leaders of the four Duma factions signed a joint statement saying the coordinating council would seek to “counteract attempts to use the Duma in the interests of individual political or financial-industrial groups”–an apparent reference to the notorious lobbying carried out by various oligarchic groups–and to “form a coalition of factions which would create a stable majority in parliament” (Moscow Times, April 18).
While it is not clear that financial-industrial groups would find a Duma dominated by a large pro-Kremlin bloc less receptive to their “lobbying” efforts, the groups most likely to lose out as a result of the consolidation of the pro-Kremlin groups are the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) and its allies, including the AgroIndustrial Group. The pro-Kremlin People’s Deputy faction may as early as today introduce into the Duma a plan that would reduce the number of committees in the lower parliamentary chamber from twenty-eight to twelve while maintaining the principle of “proportional representation.” Likewise, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the reliably pro-Kremlin Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), said today that the number of committees should be reduced to fifteen, with the chairmanships of ten committees reserved for members of pro-government factions (Polit.ru, Russian agencies, April 20).
Whichever version wins approval, the reorganization of the Duma’s committees would effectively overturn a deal which Unity and People’s Deputy cut with the KPRF in January 2000, one month after the last parliamentary elections. According to that deal, the KPRF, which came in first in the December 1999 vote, got nine committee chairmanships, People’s Deputy six and Unity five, with Fatherland-All Russia and the AgroIndustrial Group each getting two and the Union of Right-Wing Forces (SPS), the LDPR and the Russia’s Regions faction each getting one (see the Monitor, January 14, 21, 24, 26, February 11, 2000). The possibility that the KPRF might lose its committee chairmanships came up last month, when it put forward a motion to vote no confidence in the government that failed to pass (see the Monitor, March 13-14).
There were also rumors this week that the KPRF might lose the Duma speaker’s post, which is held by Gennady Seleznev, and that the position could be given to Primakov. On the other hand, Seleznev is nowadays a KPRF member almost in name only, having formed his own pro-Kremlin movement, Rossiya, and consistently supported President Vladimir Putin. Thus it is possible that Seleznev will be allowed to keep the Duma speaker’s post. Meanwhile, the consolidation of the Duma’s four pro-government groups will mean that the Kremlin will be able to count on having the 226-or-more votes needed to pass most initiatives in the 450-seat Duma, but less than the 300 vote-minimum needed to change the country’s constitution (Kommersant, April 20).
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