The major political development of the last week was the move by the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) to call a vote of no confidence in the government of Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov. This raised the possibility that parliament might be dissolved. The constitution states that if the Duma expresses no confidence in the government, the president may either dismiss the government or ignore the Duma’s decision. But, if the Duma expresses no confidence in the government twice within three months, the president must either dismiss the government or dissolve the Duma and call fresh elections.
The KPRF initiative, which will be debated by parliament on March 14, won unexpected support from some of the leaders of the pro-Putin Unity party. Unity’s leaders were apparently motivated by hope that fresh elections would strengthen their party’s position in the lower house while weakening the Communist Party’s (see the Monitor, March 8).
Regional leaders generally prefer to keep quiet during political crises at the federal level. On this occasion, however, they were unusually vocal. All the governors who spoke out seemed anxious to avert a crisis and to maintain stability. They called on Unity not to support the no-confidence vote and expressed skepticism that Unity would come out on top if new Duma elections were held.
Governors from across the political spectrum supported this view. Samara Governor Konstantin Titov, one of the leaders of the Union of Right-Wing Forces, predicted that, if pre-term elections were held, the KPRF–not Unity–would come out on top. Right-wing parties, Titov warned, would receive even fewer votes than they did in the 1999 parliamentary elections. The Samara governor disagreed with the KPRF’s criticisms of the government and said that, in his view, the cabinet was doing a good job. “Unity merely decided that the Communists had too many portfolios in the Duma’s committees and sub-committees,” Titov said (Russian agencies, March 6). Titov’s position was shared by his long-time rival in the Volga region, Saratov Governor Dmitry Ayatskov. Ayatskov saw no reason whatsoever why the government should be replaced. He expressed skepticism over Unity’s chances in pre-term elections and doubted whether the party’s deputies in the Duma would really join the Communists in voting no confidence. “Unity leaders Sergei Shoigu, Boris Gryzlov and Duma Deputy Speaker Lyubov Sliska do not reflect the view of the party’s individual deputies,” Ayatskov opined. On this occasion, he probably knows what he is talking about. Sliska, a member of Unity’s faction in the Duma, earlier served as Ayatskov’s representative in the legislature and, to some extent, continues to play that role. Saying that the Communists were suffering from “spring fever,” Ayatskov called on parliamentarians not to rock the boat at a moment when Russia had at last found relative political and economic stability (Polit.ru, March 6). Vladimir Shtygashev, speaker of the Supreme Soviet of the Republic of Khakassia, accused the Communists of opportunism and denounced Unity’s threat to support the vote of no confidence as irresponsible. Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev, governor of Orel Oblast and a recognized leader of Russia’s regional governors, doubted whether most Duma deputies would really vote against the government. He said that the Communists were calling for the government’s dismissal simply because they were in opposition and wanted to raise their popularity. However, Stroev warned, dissolving the Duma would provoke instability and put the president himself in a vulnerable position (Polit.ru, March 7).
The only regional leader to support those prepared to risk the Duma’s dissolution was Tatarstan’s President Mintimer Shaimiev. Shaimiev predicted that, if pre-term parliamentary elections were held, the KPRF would lose many of its present seats in the Duma. Equally eloquent were the views expressed by the Duma factions that tend to reflect the views and interests of regional elites, that is, Fatherland-All Russia (FAR) and Russia’s Regions. FAR leader Yevgeny Primakov said that his faction would vote against the no-confidence measure which, he said, was also “a blow aimed against the president” (Russian agencies, March 6). Oleg Morozov, leader of Russia’s Regions, said he believed that only the Communists really knew what they wanted. The positions of the other groups were not defined, and the conflict could therefore develop in various ways. If, for example, the Duma voted in favor of the no-confidence measure once, Prime Minister Kasyanov might immediately call on the Duma to vote confidence in the government. If Unity did not really intend to provoke the dissolution of parliament, that would put the party in an awkward situation (Polit.ru, March 6).
The governors have only recently established the rules of engagement between themselves and the federal center. They are unlikely to be pleased to find these rules so soon under challenge again. If preterm elections resulted in an increase in the number of seats held by Unity and the KPRF, the influence regional leaders presently exercise, through their elected representatives, over the Duma would be diminished. This explains why so many governors have spoken out against a move which could lead to parliament’s dissolution and the holding of fresh elections. The governors’ ability to influence events outside their own regions, however, is now extremely limited. Finding themselves on the sidelines of the political process, regional leaders can only watch events unfold.
WHY WOULD RUSSIA BEEF UP TROOPS IN TAJIKISTAN?