Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 13

Yesterday’s inaugural session of the new State Duma ended in a huge furor, when a number of factions walked out in protest at the decision to elect Gennady Seleznev, former Duma speaker and a top member of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF), to the speaker’s post once again. After a deal was reportedly struck between the KPRF (the largest single faction in the Duma), Unity (the pro-Kremlin bloc with the second largest representation) and People’s Deputy (a group uniting fifty-eight independent deputies who support Acting President Vladimir Putin), the resolution elevating Seleznev to the speaker’s post was passed 258-2 with seven abstentions. Seleznev ran unopposed: Unity Deputy Lyubov Sliska withdrew her candidacy in favor of Seleznev, while Yabloko candidate Sergei Stepashin, Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) leader Yevgeny Primakov and Viktor Pokhmelkin of the Union of Right-wing Forces (SPS) all withdrew their candidacies to protest the Unity-KPRF deal. Members of Yabloko, OVR and SPS, along with some deputies from the Russia’s Regions faction, walked out prior to the voting.

Russia’s Regions leader Oleg Morozov called the deal to elevate Seleznev an “insult” to the parliament and the country. Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky compared it to the 1939 Soviet-Nazi Pact, accusing the Kremlin of creating “an inviolable bloc of Communists and unprincipled people” (Moscow Times, January 19). OVR leader Yevgeny Primakov called the agreement a “profanation” and a “diktat” that was the result of a “conspiracy.” Likewise, SPS released a statement yesterday prior to the voting for the speaker which denounced what it called a “conspiracy” to create a “leftist majority” in the Duma which would be subservient to “bureaucrats occupying posts in the structures of executive power” (Russian agencies, January 18-19).

Among those who voted for Seleznev were two newcomers to the legislature–Boris Berezovsky, the tycoon and Kremlin insider who last year repeatedly called for the KPRF to be banned, and Roman Abramovich, head of the Sibneft oil company and another influential Kremlin power broker. Among the seven who abstained were Viktor Chernomyrdin, the former prime minister and the founder of the Russia is Our Home (ROH) movement, and Vladimir Ryzhkov, another top figure in ROH. On January 17, both men announced that they had joined Unity. Last autumn, Chernomyrdin had denounced the newly created Unity as a Berezovsky creation with “no ideology whatsoever” (Russian agencies, October 4, 1999).

While negotiations over which faction will control which committee have not yet been completed, one of SPS’s leaders, former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, said yesterday that the KPRF and Unity came to an understanding that the former would get control of nine “key” committees while the latter would get seven (NTV, January 18).