The Russian Duma yesterday postponed its scheduled debate of the government’s revised 1998 budget after the government submitted twelve last-minute amendments. The budget will now receive its fourth and supposedly final reading on February 20. The Duma was to have held the debate today. The decision to postpone was made at yesterday’s meeting between Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov and the leaders of the various Duma factions. Chernomyrdin said some of the deputies became "very emotional." The government submitted its twelve proposed amendments to the Duma following President Boris Yeltsin’s state-of-the-nation address on February 17, during which Yeltsin said that the draft budget needed to be amended to make it "realistic." (RTR, February 18)
Yesterday, Communist party leader Gennady Zyuganov predicted that the Duma will tomorrow reject some, if not all, of the twelve amendments. The chief bone of contention is the government’s determination to ax an additional 27.9 billion rubles of planned expenditure. The government says it has to cut this sum in order to curb the budget deficit following recent interest rates hikes that made it more expensive for the government to finance the deficit. The 27.9 billion rubles in question were added to the budget last year by the conciliation commission set up after the Communist-dominated Duma threatened to reject the government’s draft budget altogether. Grigory Yavlinsky’s Yabloko is the only faction that supports this particular cut. But Yabloko says it intends to vote against the budget as a whole on the grounds that the sum the should be cut is not 27.9 billion but 60 billion rubles. (RTR, February 18)
Aleksandr Shokhin, leader of the pro-government "Russia is Our Home" faction, said yesterday that, if the Duma refuses to approve the government’s amendments tomorrow, it might still be possible to approve the budget in the fourth reading without the amendments, which could be adopted later under separate legislation. Shokhin acknowledged, however, that even this expedient would fail unless the Duma was persuaded to remove from the budget a clause putting an upper limit of 18 billion rubles on any budget sequestration. Shokhin added that, if the Duma insisted on adopting a budget without the government’s amendments, the president might veto it. (RTR, February 18) Yesterday, Kremlin officials were said to be hinting to parliamentarians that, in those circumstances, Yeltsin might dissolve parliament. (Financial Times, February 19)
Land Code Dead and Buried.