Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 96

The first of three possible votes in the State Duma over Sergei Stepashin’s candidacy to become prime minister is scheduled for tomorrow. The Duma is likely to confirm him on the first vote (see the Monitor, May 17). President Boris Yeltsin’s spokesman, Dmitri Yakushkin, said yesterday that the president believes that the chances Stepashin will be approved on the first vote are “not bad” (Russian agencies, May 17). That Stepashin’s chances are high was underscored today by the fact that Nikolai Kharitonov, head of the leftist Agrarian Party’s faction in the Duma, which voted almost unanimously for all five impeachment counts against President Boris Yeltsin on May 15, said that Stepashin has “a not bad chance” to be confirmed tomorrow (Russian agencies, May 18). On the other hand, this forum being Russian politics, things could turn out in an unexpected way.

One wild card is Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), all but two of whose Duma deputies walked out of the impeachment vote. In a television interview yesterday, Zhirinovsky said that the LDPR will not back Stepashin if he [Zhirinovsky] is not given a deputy prime minister’s portfolio in the new cabinet and a dozen or more LDPR members do not receive other ministerial and deputy ministerial posts. Zhirinovsky predicted that tomorrow Stepashin will receive something short of the 226 votes necessary for confirmation, but that in the second vote Stepashin will be confirmed (ORT, May 17). Some observers, however, say that Yeltsin could put up a candidate other and far less acceptable than Stepashin for the second and third votes, such as Viktor Chernomyrdin or Anatoly Chubais. Were they rejected, Yeltsin would then have to dissolve the Duma and call new elections.

As for Zhirinovsky, his demand for six or more cabinet posts–undoubtedly a negotiating tactic–is clearly not going to be met. It may, however, yield results. The LDPR had representation in the Primakov cabinet: Sergei Kalashnikov was minister of labor. It is clear that the LDPR has become an important pro-Kremlin player in the Duma–according to the rumor mill, in return for various favors of a pecuniary nature. At any rate, since the weekend collapse of the leftist opposition’s impeachment initiative, which the LDPR played a key role in bringing about, Zhirinovsky has been interviewed on two of Russia’s major television channels–NTV, controlled by Vladimir Gusinsky’s Most media empire, and ORT, reportedly controlled by the tycoon Boris Berezovsky. NTV even ran an LDPR ad last night, which, though it was paid political advertising, was unusual for NTV, which has the reputation of being a leading voice of the establishment’s “liberal” wing.