Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 12

The new State Duma is likely to look much like the last one in at least one respect: the betting in Moscow is that the post will be filled by Gennady Seleznev, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) official who presided over the last Duma. Gennady Raikov, who heads “People’s Deputy,” a recently formed pro-government faction in the Duma, said yesterday that during the new Duma’s first session (scheduled for today) three factions–People’s Deputy; the pro-government Unity bloc, the second largest in the Duma; and the KPRF, the Duma’s largest–may unite behind Seleznev’s candidacy. Together, these three factions have 260 votes and therefore constitute a majority in the 450-seat Duma (Russian agencies, January 17).

Seleznev’s return to the speaker’s post seems all the more likely given that he appears to have the backing of Acting President Vladimir Putin and other influential power brokers, including Kremlin administration chief Aleksandr Voloshin. Putin publicly embraced Seleznev earlier this month when Seleznev was in a run-off (which he lost by a narrow margin) against Boris Bromov for the governorship of the Moscow Oblast. In addition, Putin said in an interview over the weekend that “cooperation with Gennady Seleznev is not impossible,” noting that his government “successfully established businesslike relations with the deputies of the previous Duma” (ORT, January 15).

The only real competition to Seleznev in the race for Duma speaker is former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, head of the Fatherland-All Russia movement. While sources close to Primakov were recently quoted as saying that he was negotiating a deal with the Kremlin, according to which he would drop his presidential ambitions in return for the speaker’s post, the Kremlin reportedly turned him down. Some observers believe that the Kremlin does not trust Primakov and does not want to give him a forum and a base to run against Putin and build an opposition (Moskovsky Komsomolets, January 18). The Kremlin thus has apparently decided to back Seleznev–a known quantity who has turned into a token “opposition” figure actually more with the Kremlin team than against it. Should Seleznev indeed be elected speaker, Lyubov Sliska, a top member of Unity, is likely to be named first deputy speaker.

The prospect of the Communists and the pro-Putin factions coming together behind Seleznev has provoked sharp criticism from some quarters. Vladimir Lukin, a leader of the Yabloko faction, called it “the height of unscrupulousness” and a manifestation of “political cynicism” (Segodnya, January 18). Former Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko, one of the leaders of the Union of Right-wing Forces (SPS) said that his faction would not under any circumstances vote for Seleznev to become speaker, while another SPS leader, former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov said: “The chairman of the Duma is the political face of Russia, its representative to the world. The last Duma worked under the leadership of a communist for four years, and we will not allow this to be repeated for another four years.” Kirienko and Nemtsov have publicly backed former Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin for the speaker’s post, but this now looks like wishful thinking.

SPS’s opposition to Seleznev is interesting, given that most of its leaders have given provisional backing to Putin’s presidential bid while one of them, Anatoly Chubais, backs Putin unconditionally. Their support for Putin is reportedly not shared by the SPS rank-in-file (Izvestia, January 15).