Duma Kicks Off With Flurry of Bills

APSinger Iosif Kobzon and former gymnast Alina Kabayeva looking at souvenirs during the Duma's first session Friday.
It was clear from the start of the session what would occupy most of the time for State Duma deputies Friday as they returned from their long holiday recess.

"Good afternoon," Speaker Boris Gryzlov said in the way of a brief greeting, adding without a pause, "Let's start voting."

Although Gryzlov's party, United Russia, which holds a huge majority in the legislature, postponed voting on a few of the 24 measures planned and some introduced by other parties were voted down, a fair bit of legislation made it through a first reading.

Discussion in the session, meanwhile, ranged from issues like the agenda for the coming session, complaints about vote rigging during the Dec. 2 Duma elections and inflation rates.

The most pressing concern appeared to be, however, that many of the deputies to the new Duma had yet to be assigned offices.

Communist Deputy Nikolai Kolomeitsev complained that the problem had reduced about 100 deputies to working in the building's halls and corridors.

"The deputies speaking today are mostly those who already have new offices," Kolomeitsev told the Duma. "The others can't speak out because you can't prepare for a session in the corridor."

Gryzlov answered with a promise that all deputies would have offices by the end of the week.

Another order of business Friday was to fill out the membership of the legislature's committees and other positions.

David Tsabria, the head of the Duma legal administration, was appointed as the chamber's representative to the Constitutional Court, despite objections from Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky that Tsabria does not hold a Duma seat, while Gryzlov and Alexander Kozlovsky, also from United Russia, were named head and deputy head, respectively, of the Duma's interparliamentary group.

On the legislative side, voting was postponed on a bill that would expand the number of instances in which a person's legal or civil competence can be limited and another changing the powers of prosecutors in civil cases.

One of the opposition bills that did not make it past a first reading was a measure calling for Duma deputies to be allowed to examine materials and evidence from criminal, civil and administrative-offense cases after verdicts have been delivered or the case closed.

Others included a measure that would have allowed municipal authorities to set their own quotas for foreign workers in the retail sector and one changing the level of responsibility in the Administrative Offenses Code for those selling alcohol and cigarettes to minors.

In general statements before the Duma, Zhirinovsky claimed that the Dec. 2 parliamentary vote had been rigged and that his party had been deprived of votes, and Communist Deputy Anatoly Lokot proposed inviting Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov to answer before the Duma for climbing inflation rates.

"We must break the negative pattern where the government is not called on to account for its actions," Lokot said.

A total of 651 bills are scheduled for consideration during the spring session, which runs through July, First Deputy Speaker Oleg Morozov said Friday.