Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 10

The blocs and parties which won seats in Russia’s new State Duma during the December 19 elections are now involved in negotiations over who will chair the body’s various committees and serve as its speaker. The bargaining is reportedly intense.

Unity–the pro-Kremlin bloc which put in a surprisingly strong performance on December 19, nearly tying the first-place Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF)–is reportedly trying to get control of the various committees which address social policy, sports, the banking system, the financial markets, agriculture, industry, ecology, defense, local self-government, and the problems of the North and Far East. It is doubtful that the bloc can possibly win all of these chairmanships, though its Number Two member, three-time Olympics wrestling champion, is the odds-on favorite to head the sports committee. Yabloko, which fared rather poorly last December, is reportedly aiming to control the security, international affairs and local self-government committees. Fatherland-All Russia (OVR)–the coalition led by Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov and former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov and which came in third in December–wants the social policy, budget, defense, security, CIS affairs and culture committees. Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s faction, which only squeaked into the Duma in the December race, also wants the international affairs committee. As for the Union of Right-Wing Forces (SPS), which came in fourth last December, one of its top members, former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov said yesterday that it is trying to win the chairmanships of the Duma’s budget, industrial, legal and defense committees, but that the union’s members had be “realists” and get involved in horse trading.

Then comes the question of who will become the new Duma speaker. SPS is pushing the candidacy of former Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin. Stepashin joined forces with the Yabloko party during the December campaign. Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky said yesterday that he doubted that Stepashin would be named speaker–because, Yavlinsky claimed, the presidential administration opposes Stepashin’s candidacy. Yavlinsky also indicated that SPS’s support for Stepashin was provisional and could be withdrawn at any moment, but added that he hoped that part of OVR would back Stepashin for the speaker’s post.

According to some observers, Stepashin is now in fact out of the running for the speaker’s chair. The two most likely candidates are said to be Lyubova Sliska from Unity and Gennady Seleznev, the Communist Party deputy who was speaker in the last Duma. Seleznev recently lost his bid to become governor of the Moscow Oblast to Boris Gromov, the general who withdrew Soviet forces from Afghanistan. Acting President Vladimir Putin openly backed Seleznev in that contest. Some say that the Kremlin is also backing his bid to return to the post of Duma speaker. It has been suggested that Seleznev, were he made speaker, would most likely make Sliska his deputy.

Meanwhile, Primakov said yesterday that OVR had decided to back him for the position. Political scientist Sergei Markov, however, noted that if Primakov were to win the speaker’s post, it would be a sign that he has promised the Kremlin to withdraw from the presidential race. Should this happen, Markov said, it is likely that Putin will win the presidency in the first round of voting, scheduled for March 26 (Russian agencies, January 13).