Publication: Prism Volume: 2 Issue: 1

The New Duma: An End to Business as Usual?

by Gleb Cherkassov

The most obvious result of the December 17th parliamentary elections is that the system of inter-parliamentary restraints and counterbalances which existed in the 5th (former) State Duma has been destroyed. (Here it is apt to recall that) the opponents and proponents of the authorities were approximately equally represented in the former Duma and this allowed the chamber to function quite efficiently. Law-making work prevailed over political squabbles. Neither the democrats nor the opposition could control the Duma, and so they had no choice but to seek compromise. One manifestation of such political compromise was the so-called "parcel agreement" (i.e., the fair sharing of the parliamentary positions between representatives from various factions and deputy groups).

In the 6th State Duma however, there is little possibility of a similar compromise being achieved. The opposition has acquired the majority of the seats and is not prone to make any concessions to the pro-government "Russia is Our Home" bloc.

Major fights will probably break out over the posts of State Duma chairman and his deputies. The Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) is firmly determined to fight for the post of chairman (in all likelihood the Communists will nominate Gennady Seleznev, in the former Duma he was the deputy chairman, as their candidate. However, other factions are unlikely to agree to the top position in the Duma being given to the Communists. Thus, the LDPR has already chosen Vladimir Gusev (he chaired the Industry Committee in the former Duma) to be its candidate for chairman of the new Duma. The "Russia is Our Home" faction is likely to nominate Ivan Rybkin. Yabloko has not yet get decided on its candidate and most probably will not fight for this post. As far as the "independent" candidates are concerned, one deserving attention is former Federation Council member Nikolai Gonchar. He is an experienced parliamentarian (for three years he headed the Moscow City Council) and is on good terms with all the factions.

The upcoming battle for the chairman’s post should not be considered separately from the battles for the chairmanships of the State Duma committees which is also in the offing. The fact is that some of the committees will apparently be headed by those who headed them in the former Duma. For many committees, however, new chairman will have to be appointed. The Communists will definitely seek to bring the majority of these committees under their control. In the meantime, the ROH faction has already announced its intention to have its representatives appointed chairmen of the committees related to economics and regional policy. The LDPR is also seeking to expand its influence on the governing structures of the Duma. Vladimir Zhirinovsky has announced that his faction claims the post of Foreign Policy Committee chairman.

The whole battle for chairmanship of the Duma committees will depend on whether the Communists will be able to control 226 votes (50 percent + 1.) If the Communists prove that they enjoy the majority in the Duma the second question will be whether or not they wish to assume the role of sole "master" of the chamber.

Gennady Zyuganov’s party has not only won 22 percent by party lists but has managed to have its 57 nominees elected in the single-member districts. Therefore, the KPRF faction numbers 155 persons and is the largest faction in the new Duma. Curiously, this victory has frightened the KPRF leaders themselves: KPRF Central Committee Deputy Chairman Valentin Kuptsov has stated that it will be hard to manage such a large faction. Therefore, Gennady Zyuganov’s men now consider it possible to take part in the creation of "affiliated" deputy groups.

A first such group is supposed to be composed of the 20 agrarian-deputies who have been elected in the single- member districts. For this group to be registered as a faction, the KPRF will have to assign some 15-20 of its deputies to supplement this group (according to the State Duma regulations, in order to be registered as a faction a parliamentary group must comprise at least 35 deputies). If the "agrarian project" is a success the KPRF will not only acquire an ally but will also acquire the opportunity to take the whole Agrarian party under its control.

A second "affiliated" group may be created on the basis of the 10 deputies from the "Power to People" bloc who were elected in the single-member districts. This group will probably be joined by a number of deputies elected in single-member districts who are members of the Congress of Russian Communities, including Aleksandr Lebed. In the latter case, however, the KPRF will probably withdraw from the project because the relations between Gennady Zyuganov and Yuri Skokov can in no way be called friendly.

Finally, many "independent" deputies have not yet disclosed their positions. It cannot be ruled out that some of them will ally with the KPRF.

In any event the Communist opposition will definitely consolidate 200 votes. Therefore, in order to have the majority in the chamber the KPRF will need 30 more votes. If the KPRF faction fails to lure some 30 deputies from single-member districts the Communists will have to look for party allies.

Speaking of possible KPRF allies in the Duma analysts most often name the LDPR. Despite the fact that Zhirinovsky’s party received half as many votes in the voting by party lists as it did in 1993 and was almost a complete failure in the single-member districts, the party has nevertheless managed to preserve its former numerical strength in the Duma: approximately 50 seats. It cannot be ruled out that the KPRF will try to form an alliance with Yabloko which has won 45 seats in the new Duma. In order to effect such an alliance the KPRF would have to sacrifice a number of chairmanships of Duma committees. However, Zyuganov’s men are ready to make such a concession.

Any compromise between the KPRF and ROH is completely impossible. ROH faction leader Sergei Belyaev has announced that ROH is the only firm opponent of the Communists. The numerical strength of the ROH faction in the new Duma is not known at this point. It is only known that 47 supporters of Viktor Chernomyrdin were elected by party list and another 10 won in the single-member districts. In addition, ROH representatives are trying busily to recruit the "independent" single-member district deputies to their side. ROH faction leader Sergei Belyaev expects to organize some 80 deputies behind the "ROH banners." However, the most important task for Viktor Chernomyrdin’s team is to seek allies within the new Duma. ROH obviously cannot count on support from the LDPR or KPRF. Yabloko also does not appear to be in a position to compromise with the ROH faction. As a result, ROH finds itself in a political isolation that is even tougher than that faced by "Russia’s Choice" in the former Duma.

In all likelihood several more factions (in addition to the above described) will emerge in the new Duma. An Interregional Deputy Group has already been established. It includes single-member district deputies who are members of the democratic political parties and blocs which failed to surmount the 5 percent barrier, specifically from Russia’s Democratic Choice. In addition, Vladimir Medvedev (former leader of the New Regional Policy faction) and Nikolai Gonchar are establishing a group. Probably, the ROH faction will assist in the formation of these groups in the hope of making them allies in the future. In the meantime, the KPRF faction has already prepared draft amendments to the Duma regulations. These amendments are essentially intended to curtail the rights and possibilities of deputy groups compared to those enjoyed by full-fledged factions. The point is that the Communists want the affiliated groups, which they plan to establish, to be simultaneously partners and subordinates of the KPRF faction. In addition, with an eye to the upcoming battle for the Duma governing positions, the Communists want the ROH faction to be unable to change the balance of forces to her advantage.

As a matter of fact, major events will apparently take place before the first plenary session of the new State Duma which is scheduled for January 15th. By that time, all the major deputy groups will have been formed and the factions will clarify their positions. None of the political forces which have entered the new Duma has so far clearly declared its claims or made any moves towards achieving a consensus. But Russia’s political process is very peculiar: Yesterday’s mortal enemies may well unite against their former allies, and a faction generally believed to be an ally of the "party of power" may suddenly become an open critic of the activities of the authorities.

Gleb Cherkassov is a commentator for Segodnya.