The State Duma has scheduled a vote of no confidence in the government of Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov for March 14. The vote, which was put on the agenda last month by the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) and other leftist factions in the parliament’s lower house, requires a simple majority–226 votes–to pass. According to article 117 of Russia’s constitution, the president may either replace the cabinet or dissolve the Duma if the Duma passes a no-confidence measure twice within three months. The no-confidence measure initially appeared to be simply a way for the KPRF to reaffirm its “opposition” credentials because the KPRF and their allies, including the Agro-Industrial faction, by themselves would not have enough votes to pass the no-confidence measure. However, the prospects that the measure might actually pass were increased this week when top officials in Unity, the pro-Kremlin party which has the second largest faction in the State Duma, indicated that they, too, would vote no confidence in the government. Boris Gryzlov, who heads the Unity faction in the Duma, said his faction would vote no confidence not in opposition to the Kasyanov cabinet but as a “retaliatory move” against the Communists, whom he accused of using the no-confidence vote in order to “destabilize the situation in the country.” In other words, Unity, a party distinguished mainly by its loyalty to President Vladimir Putin, was in essence signaling that the Kremlin’s response to a no-confidence vote would be to dissolve the Duma (Russian agencies, March 5-7).
Indeed, the Kremlin, according to some reports, has decided to call the KPRF’s bluff and use the no-confidence initiative as a way to initiate new parliamentary elections. Gleb Pavlovsky, the controversial political consultant and Kremlin adviser, laid out this scenario last month after Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov tabled the no-confidence measure. In an interview with his own website, Strana.ru, Pavlovsky said that new Duma elections would “once and for all” rob the Communists of the “possibility to blackmail the country and the Duma” and turn the KPRF faction in the Duma into “a more modest parliamentary faction” (Strana.ru, February 20). The KPRF has the largest single faction in Duma, with Unity a close second. However, if each faction is combined with its closest ally, Unity comes out ahead: Unity and the People’s Deputy faction together hold 164 seats in the 450-seat chamber, while the KPRF together with the Agro-Industrial faction hold 127 seats. The Kremlin strategists reportedly believe that Unity would able to win 40 percent of the Duma’s seats in new elections (NTV, Moscow Times, March 6). In addition, they are reportedly seeking pre-term parliamentary elections in order to avoid having them in 2003, when they are next scheduled to take place. Some experts predict that Russia will experience a series of catastrophes in its aging technological infrastructure that year. In addition, US$17.5 billion in foreign debts come due in 2003 (Obshchaya Gazeta, March 8).
On the other hand, a number of observers said this week that the Kremlin was overestimating the prospects for its loyalist factions in new Duma elections, even factoring in the advantage Unity and its allies would have thanks to the Kremlin’s “administrative resources”–that is, money and media–or even manipulation of the voting and/or its results. Yury Levada, head of the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM), one of the country’s leading polling agencies, noted that polling data in January and February of this year showed 21 percent and 22 percent of respondents ready to vote for Unity, down from 26 percent last May, while the KPRF has maintained the steady support of 35 percent of the respondents in VTsIOM polls (Radio Ekho Moskvy, March 6). Even some of Unity’s members went on the record questioning the calculations of the party’s leaders and the Kremlin strategists. “Our rating is not high enough to go into elections,” Aleksandr Chuev, a member of Unity’s Duma faction, said in an interview. “Neither the party nor the faction has done anything so far to make its presence felt or to capture the initiative from the Communists” (Segodnya, March 7).
Such comments make it clear that many Unity members are less than happy about the prospect of losing their comfortable parliamentary seats for the sake of tactical calculations made by Pavlovsky and other Kremlin strategists. This may explain why some of the party’s leaders backed away from declaring outright that Unity’s Duma faction will join the Communists in voting no confidence. According to reports, the party will now make a final decision on whether or not to support the no-confidence initiative on the eve of the March 14 vote. Meanwhile, Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu, who is Unity’s leader, came out yesterday and publicly criticized certain leaders of the party for announcing their readiness to support the KPRF’s no-confidence initiative. While he did not name names, he was clearly referring to Gryzlov, among others. Along with Shoigu, Lyubov Sliska, the Duma’s first vice speaker and a Unity leader, has publicly criticized the idea of supporting the no-confidence initiative as a way to dissolve the Duma.
The fact that some members of Unity have criticized other members for supporting the no-confidence measure suggests that the Unity faction may split its vote on the initiative. This may mean that the measure will fail to get the minimum of 226 votes needed for passage, given that it is opposed by Unity’s ally, People’s Deputy, and a number of the smaller factions, including the Union of Right-Wing Forces and Yabloko. Indeed, Yevgeny Raikov, head of People’s Deputy, Unity’s main ally, predicted yesterday that the no-confidence measure would fail to pass the Duma on March 14. Meanwhile, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who heads the reliably pro-Kremlin Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) predicted yesterday that the measure would not receive the necessary number of votes this time around, but that the Kasyanov cabinet would be dismissed and the Duma dissolved before the end of the year. Zhirinovsky said his LDPR faction would vote in favor of the no-confidence measure. Both Raikov and Zhirinovsky said that disagreement within Unity over the no-confidence issue could cause the party to split (Russian agencies, March 7). Some observers believe the no-confidence controversy has underscored Unity’s failure to become a “party of power,” and that Unity may soon join Russia is Our Home and Russia’s Choice as yet another failed experiment in creating a reliable pro-Kremlin party.
It is possible that even if the no-confidence measure fails to pass, the Kremlin might use a close vote as a pretext to make changes in the cabinet. While a number of observers have long predicted that Kasyanov would be replaced, a newspaper predicted yesterday that Putin would spare the prime minister but fire half of the cabinet on the basis of its failures in economic policy. The paper reported that Aleksei Kudrin, who is both the finance minister and a deputy prime minister, is “leading the list of potential casualties.” The paper listed among Kudrin’s sins his failure to win over the International Monetary Fund or convince the Paris Club of creditors to reschedule Russia’s debt (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, March 7; see also the Monitor, February 28).
IMPASSE IN PARIS.