Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 51

The vote of no confidence in the government of Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, which the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) initiated last month, went down to defeat today in the State Duma, with 127 deputies voting for it, seventy-six against and five abstaining. Fewer than half of the lower parliamentary chamber’s 450 members took part in the vote. One apparent reason for this is that the leaders of the pro-Kremlin Unity party, some of whom only a week ago said they would support the KPRF initiative as a way to bring about the Duma’s dismissal and new parliamentary elections, announced yesterday that their Duma faction would boycott today’s vote. Today, just before the vote, the Unity faction’s head, Boris Gryzlov, praised the government for its “professionalism” and called on other factions to join the boycott. Nearly all the members of the Fatherland-All Russia faction, which yesterday said it would participate and vote against the measure, refrained from voting, as did approximately half the members of the pro-Kremlin People’s Deputy faction, which had also promised to participate and vote against. The other factions acted more or less acted as they had promised: Unity and Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) boycotted en masse, while nearly all of Yabloko’s deputies and most members of the Russia’s Regions faction also refrained from voting. The Union of Right-Wing Forces faction voted nearly unanimously against the measure, with one member abstaining. Only the KPRF faction and its ally, the AgroIndustrial Group, voted overwhelmingly in favor (Russian agencies, March 13-14).

If anyone can be seen emerging from the no-confidence controversy as a “winner,” it is the KPRF. The party has increasingly come under fire both from traditional communist voters, who fear it has become too soft on–or even cozy with–the Kremlin, and others on the left, who see it as concerned only with its partisan interests and thus not acting in the interests of its constituents. Thus the no-confidence measure was a way for the KPRF reaffirm its “opposition” credentials and shore up its dwindling support without actually provoking new Duma elections–something which many of its own members would no doubt dread, given the possibility that they could lose their seats. And while there was talk this week that Duma’s two main pro-Kremlin factions, Unity and People’s Deputy, might punish the KPRF for the no-confidence measure by moving to rob the KPRF faction of its eleven committee chairmanships and the Duma speaker’s post, held by Gennady Seleznev, this now appears unlikely. President Vladimir Putin and his team may need the support of the Communists–who have generally backed the Kremlin’s initiatives in the Duma–in order to pass measures that require a two-thirds majority, such as a bill to reform the country’s legal system. Thus the Kremlin is likely to warn Unity and People’s Deputy off taking such retaliation against the KPRF (Segodnya, March 14; see also the Monitor, March 13).

And if there was any “loser” in this controversy, it was Unity, and particularly the head of its Duma faction, Boris Gryzlov, who earlier this month publicly said that the faction would back the KPRF’s no-confidence measure as a way to provoke the Duma’s dismissal and new parliamentary elections. While Gryzlov emphasized at the time that his support for the measure did not mean he opposed the Kasyanov government, other members of Unity openly took issue with his support of the KPRF measure, saying it would be strange to vote no confidence in a government which included Unity’s leader, Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu (see the Monitor, March 8, 13). Yesterday, Gryzlov justified his initial stance in support of the KPRF no-confidence initiative, calling it a “political combination” which had achieved its goals. Gryzlov said his announcement that Unity would support the no-confidence initiative had forced the media to focus exclusively on the Duma’s internal problems and the possibility of its dismissal, thereby deflecting the KPRF away from “speaking about the government and its deficiencies.” Gryzlov claimed his statement supporting the no-confidence measure had even caused some wavering factions to “swear allegiance to the government.” In addition, Gryzlov said his demarche in favor of the no-confidence vote had made it clear that any future KPRF-initiated no-confidence measure will be “a political farce.” Some observers found Gryzlov’s ex-post-facto justification of his actions less than convincing. Indeed, Aleksandr Chuev, a member of the Unity’s Duma faction, said that the faction’s initial support of the no-confidence initiative was a mistaken decision made by the faction’s leadership, not the faction as a whole. The newspaper Kommersant today openly ridiculed Gryzlov’s justification for supporting the no-confidence measure (Kommersant, March 14; Russian agencies, March 13).

Meanwhile, there have been rumors that the left will initiate a vote of no confidence in the government in the autumn, when the Duma takes up the government’s proposed federal budget for 2002. Gryzlov said in an interview today that if the left attempts to “block” the budget by initiating such a no-confidence vote again, the issue of dissolving the Duma will become “more timely” and “a big part of the State Duma will take decisive measures” against the KPRF and its allies (NTV, March 14). Meanwhile, two politicians on the opposite side of the spectrum from the KPRF, Yabloko’s Vladimir Lukin and SPS’s Irina Khakamada, said that their Duma factions might themselves initiate a vote of no confidence in the government this autumn. Yesterday, Boris Nemtsov, leader of the SPS’s Duma faction, accused the government of “working slowly and unproductively” and of indecision in carrying out tax, pension and land reform. Nemtsov said today that his faction would consider a no-confidence initiative in the autumn if the government failed in the meantime to take the “proper course” (Russian agencies, March 13; NTV, March 14).