Publication: Fortnight in Review Volume: 4 Issue: 8

There was growing disquiet in Moscow as the awareness sank in that, when he sacked the entire government of Viktor Chernomyrdin on March 23, President Boris Yeltsin had no idea with what or whom he was going to replace it. On April 10, Russia’s State Duma rejected Yeltsin’s nominee for prime minister, thirty-five-year-old Sergei Kirienko, by 186 votes to 143 in a secret ballot. The margin was narrower than the Kremlin had anticipated, and in less than an hour, Yeltsin had renominated Kirienko. Opposition leaders insisted that they would vote against him again when the second vote was held on April 17. Observers agreed that Kirienko faced a tough battle to gather the 226 votes he needed for approval.

If the Duma were to reject Kirienko a third time, Yeltsin would have the constitutional right to dissolve parliament and call fresh elections. Neither side wanted this outcome, but, at the same time, neither wanted to be seen to capitulate. As April 17 approached, both sides grew more confrontational. The Duma changed its rules to allow the vote to be an open one, permitting faction leaders to monitor how their members voted. The leaders of the left opposition factions — Gennady Zyuganov of the Russian Communist party, Nikolai Ryzhkov of Power to the People!, and Nikolai Kharitonov of the Agrarians — reiterated their determination to reject Kirienko.

Yeltsin responded with a threat of his own. His aide, Sergei Shakhrai, warned that, if the Duma rejected Yeltsin’s nominee three times, the president would not only dissolve parliament but ensure that fresh elections were held under new rules. In the future, Shakhrai said, party lists would be abolished and all deputies would be elected in individual constituencies. This was a serious threat since its likely result would be a sharp fall in the number of candidates elected from the Communist Party. Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s Liberal Democratic Party would be eliminated almost entirely.