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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Industrialist Is New Prime Minister

President Boris Yeltsin lost his battle for Yegor Gaidar on Monday, proposing a 54-year-old industrialist as prime minister instead of the young economist who for a year guided Russia's shock-therapy reforms.


Yeltsin surprised almost everybody in the Congress of People's Deputies by picking Viktor Chernomyrdin, the current energy minister from a list of three possible candidates for prime minister.


The thick-set veteran of the Soviet gas industry was promptly accepted, without debate, by a vote of 721 to 172 with 48 abstentions.


After the vote, Gaidar told reporters that he would not serve in a cabinet under Chernomyrdin.


I will of course resign and will not return", he said, according to Reuters.


Only hours earlier Yeltsin had said that he would accept no one but Gaidar to head the government, leading most commentators to believe that he planned to force the Congress to accept him as acting prime minister at least until April.


The final struggle over who would become prime minister began around noon Monday when Yeltsin received a list of 17 names from the political factions that have sparred for two weeks at the Seventh Congress.


A few hours later, Yeltsin submitted five of these candidates to the Congress for a preference vote, angering centrists who had expected Deputy Prime Minister Georgy Khizha to make the list.


Gaidar barely scraped onto the final shortlist of three, beating an unknown factory director from the Volga region by just one vote.


In separate ballots, Chernomyrdin collected 621 votes, Gaidar took 400, while Yury Skokov, secretary of the president's Security Council, fared best with 637.


Yeltsin made it clear in a short speech to introduce his choice that Chernomyrdin had been forced upon him by a process of elimination.


His voice breaking after the strain of a Congress that saw his authority repeatedIy battered. Yeltsin said that Gaidar would have been "the best choice". Skokov had too many important duties as head of the Security Council to be moved, he said, and that left Chernomyrdin.


At that point the deputies held their final 721-172 vote.


"We are delighted", Mikhail Chelnokov, leader of the hardline Russian Unity faction, said afterwards. "It was a total defeat for Yeltsin".


The president's spokesman, Vyacheslav Kostikov, said it had been "psychologically difficult" for Yeltsin to give up Gaidar, 36. "But there was the logic of politics, the logic of events and the logic of the Congress to consider", he added.


The rest of the young Gaidar cabinet withdrew to discuss their next move, but Kostikov predicted "serious losses among the Gaidar team". He described them as "a powerful bloc of like-minded people -- you could say friends. Many will leave with Gaidar".


Centrist deputies loosely grouped in the Civic Union bloc expressed satisfaction at the result, with faction leaders leaping up from their seats to shake hands afterwards. Chernomyrdin, who was gas minister under President Mikhail Gorbachev, had been their preferred choice.


In a brief acceptance speech, Chernomyrdin told the deputies what they wanted to hear.


"I am for reform. I am for deepening reform -- but without impoverishing the people", he said.


On television later, he said he was "in favor of the market, but not of a bazaar".


Chernomyrdin's best known act since being appointed energy minister last May -- he was named as a concession to the previous session of the Congress -- was to take oil off the list of industries to be privatized in October.


Yeltsin negotiated the complicated nomination system for choosing a prime minister during tough bargaining with top legislators on Saturday, ending what had developed into a constitutional crisis.


At the time, hardliners and Yeltsin supporters alike believed the system would allow the president to keep Gaidar in place.


The Congress, which adjourned at the end of Monday's debates, will reconvene in April. Before that time, Russians will vote in a referendum on the draft of a new constitution that is expected to wipe the Congress out of existence.