Publication: Prism Volume: 2 Issue: 4

Communist Grip Tightens in the Duma

By Andrei Zhukov

The forecasts made by analysts that the parliamentary elections would not dramatically alter the balance of political forces have not been borne out. The first meetings of the new Duma have demonstrated that the left-wingers (comprised of the KPRF and those deputy groups which sympathize with the Communists) can easily enact their proposals. Moreover, the Duma has been turned into a Communists stronghold and the real question is whether the reds and pinks will be able to turn the parliament into their headquarters for the upcoming presidential elections. In addition, the elections to the Duma have started a process of restructuring within Russia’s political spectrum. The outside parties are sinking into oblivion: The majority of them (with the sole exception, perhaps, of Russia’s Democratic Choice) will apparently "die" before the next presidential elections. A political restructuring has also begun within the State Duma. The first month of the Duma’s performance revealed the existence of two large coalitions within the parliament: The deputies who are members of "Russia is Our Home," the LDPR and the "Russian Regions" group, which is composed of deputies elected from single mandate districts, supported Ivan Rybkin for speaker while the Communists and their sympathizers from "Narodovlastie" and the Agrarian Group, which are also composed of deputies elected from single mandate districts, supported Communists Gennady Seleznev. The latter has won. The position of the Yabloko faction (they nominated Vladimir Lukin for Speaker) only helped the Communists nominee to win.

The KPRF has won the top posts in ten committees and the Mandate Commission. Meanwhile, the Yabloko faction has also considerably increased its influence. Despite being not very large in number the latter faction has managed to win top posts in four committees, including such significant committees as the Budget Committee and the Committee for Foreign Affairs. The "Narodovlastie" group (with the support of the Communists) has also taken a committee under her control; this committee is led by Georgy Kostin who is a KPRF appointee. At the same time the LDPR has acquired control of the same four committees this party had controlled in the former Duma. Of the four committees taken over by "Russia is Our Home" only two, the Committee on Defense and the Committee on Privatization, can be regarded as significant.

Therefore, we obviously must conclude that two large forces have formed in the Duma. The first one comprises proponents of communism and strengthened statehood and includes the KPRF faction (149 deputies), the "Narodovlastie" group (37 deputies) and the Agrarian group (35 deputies). These people are fervent critics of the government course, demand that amendments be introduced in the constitution (in order to diminish the role of the president and the executive branch) and seek to revise a number of laws which provide for economic reforms in the country. The election of the speaker demonstrated that the three groups which form the pro-Communist flank (together with those "independent" deputies whom they have won over to their side) may gather a total of up to 230 votes. The Yabloko faction tends to support them. Speaking at a press conference recently Boris Yeltsin stated that Yabloko, proclaiming democratic ideas, has factually allied itself with the Communists. As a matter of fact, Yabloko’s appraisal of the current economic situation does not differ very much from that of the Communists. Moreover, sometimes Yabloko is even more radical. Suffice to say that the Yabloko faction has already made an attempt to have the question of "no confidence" in the government included in the agenda. However, this proposal was not supported by other oppositional factions of the Duma.

The coalition I am speaking about is consolidated not only by their common view of the present economic situation in the country but also by certain very practical considerations. The fact is that it was only thanks to the KPRF that "Narodovlastie" and the Agrarian group have managed to obtain official registration as parliamentary groups; the Communists have assigned some of their men to these groups. Thanks to the KPRF’s support, these groups have managed to have their representatives appointed to head three State Duma committees each and have received two deputy chairmanships. According to unofficial information, Yabloko also has its own pragmatic interest: The Communists have promised to support Grigory Yavlinsky in the second round of the Presidential elections if their own candidate fails.

The second large force present in the Duma can be called a "pro-government" coalition. This force comprises the "Russia is Our Home" faction (approximately 60 deputies), LDPR faction (approximately 60 deputies) and partially the "Russian Regions" group (approximately 40 deputies). The only idea that holds the above forces together is their aversion to communism and their support of the government (as a lesser evil compared to a Communist return to power).

Probably, the LDPR and ROH have already signed some type of a cooperation agreement. This assumption is supported by the fact that both factions united to support Rybkin for Duma speaker (however unsuccessfully). Moreover, in a number of incidents (for example, during the vote on the draft law "On Russia’s Human Rights Commissioner") the factions combined their votes. (Here it is apt to recall that the LDPR, despite all the odiousness of her leader, is known to be a consistent supporter of the government — in the former Duma it was precisely the LDPR faction which supported the government during the vote on the question of "confidence in the government." In addition, the LDPR endorsed the government’s draft budget and welcomed the decision to introduce troops in Chechnya). The "Russian Regions" group, although criticizing the government, is ready to come to terms with it because they believe that Chernomyrdin’s government, despite mistakes, is pursuing a course of reforms.

The bipolar division of the Duma with the Communists having a very strong position in it is a major trait of Russia’s current political situation. Presidential elections are approaching. Meanwhile, alliances are being formed in the Duma which will apparently provide a basis for certain presidential candidates, for example, by agreeing on a single opposition candidate.

Given this situation it is important to understand what the Communists actually have. In addition to having their own man as the speaker (Gennady Seleznev is acting not in his own name and not in the name of the Duma, but on behalf of the KPRF), they (the Communists) can be certain about three deputy speakers (their own appointee, the appointee of "Narodovlastie" and the appointee of the Agrarian group). Furthermore, the Communists can be certain about the State Duma Council where the left-wingers have three persons plus the vacillating Yabloko representative. Significantly, the Communists now hold wide possibilities to assert their positions via the State Duma committees. The fact is that 25 out of the total of 28 State Duma committees are dominated by KPRF representatives. Therefore, the KPRF opinion can be presented as the committee’s opinion during a discussion of one or another draft law. Another important moment: KPRF people have been appointed to head the Committee to Organize the State Duma’s Work and the State Duma’s Apparatus. This means that all decisions (in matters of preparation and coordination) will be passed through the "Communist filter."

The significance of the State Duma as a "jumping-off site" for the Communists in their bid for power is enormous. To begin with, the KPRF has managed to deprive all the other Communist formations (in the first place the extremist Russian Communists Workers Party led by Viktor Anpilov) of any chance to claim the top office in Russia. Secondly, the Communists have acquired a remarkable opportunity to officially (and without any restraint) conduct their propaganda from the Duma podium. It is obvious that in this situation the oppositional part of the Duma will seek to organize a number of "dressing downs" of the executive branch in order to raise its prestige with the public. It will not be very difficult to do this, especially since the president cannot dissolve the Duma until the presidential elections (according to the constitution). Thirdly, the Communists now have the opportunity to test their people in the Duma today, including their loyalties and possibilities in case the Communists come to power. Furthermore, their positions in the Duma provide a basis for Communist deputies to carry out electoral propaganda with the public. State Duma deputies are supposed to spend one week out of every month making trips in the regions. They do not have to report what they say to the people while on these trips (even if their speeches constitute election propaganda). Noteworthy, almost from the very start the Communists began to replace the members of the former State Duma apparatus with their own people and have sought to make the State Duma an independent legal entity with its own bank account. If the State Duma becomes a legal entity with its own bank account it is precisely the Communists who will in the first place obtain access to this account. Nobody knows how they would use the money. However, it can be presumed that in view of the fact that the Central Elections Committee has imposed a limit on the sum to be spent by each candidate on his election campaign, a Duma banking account might well be used for purposes other than those designated, for example, to finance the trips of presidential candidates around the regions, printed matter, etc.

Another conclusion which can be made is that attendance at State Duma meetings will improve due to the left opposition’s discipline. However, the improved attendance of the meetings will not result in a corresponding rise in efficiency. On the one hand, the decrease in the number of parliamentary factions has so far only added to disorder in the chamber. On the other hand, the leftist forces seemed likely to be doomed to being bogged down in endless and futile paperwork. They will be able to have almost all their draft laws passed (by the way, former USSR Supreme Soviet speaker Anatoly Lukyanov has become State Duma Legislation Committee chairman). However, it is well known that to come into effect all draft laws must be signed by the head of state. The president will hardly agree to sign draft laws written by the Communists. In order to override a presidential veto the Duma has to collect 300 votes which is absolutely impossible for the Communists. Therefore, the fate of many State Duma draft laws is predetermined: they will bounce back and forth undergoing endless revisions and coordinations. It is hardly possible that a single law providing for a radical change of the situation in the country, her economy, or state power arrangement will be adopted in the next four months.

Translated by Aleksandr Kondorsky

Andrei Zhukov works for the Globe Press Syndicate.