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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Khasbulatov Stole Congress Show

Apart from being divisive, rowdy, and occasionally frightening in the conservative resolutions it passed, the latest session of the Congress of People's Deputies was unquestionably Ruslan Khasbulatov's show. When he did not like the outcome of a vote, the parliamentary speaker informed the deputies that they had failed to understand the issue and should vote again. More often than not he got his way on the second attempt.


When legislators rambled on, or said eloquently what Khasbulatov was reluctant to hear, he switched off their microphones.


He joked with them, cajoled them. He speaks their language, using numerous stock phrases from the lexicon of old party meetings.


But in a political arena rife with mystery and intrigue, Khasbulatov -- chairman of both the 1, 040-member Congress and the smaller standing parliament -- has been an enigmatic figure. He owes his position to President Boris Yeltsin, but has since gone to work to wrest power away from his former mentor and take control over the government in the name of parliamentary democracy.


And at a press conference Tuesday, he accused the government of amassing enough mistakes in its year of shock-therapy reforms "to make up for the last 70 years".


If the speaker defined his position against the Gaidar government and for a return to some of the ways of the Soviet past, he still enraged hardliners Saturday when he pushed a compromise resolution through the Congress that appeared at the time to favor Yeltsin and to enable his top economist, Yegor Gaidar, to remain head of government.


Khasbulatov overlooked a few rules in his haste to pass the compromise, such as the two-thirds majority vote that it required, but did not get. So much for parliamentary democracy.


Khasbulatov, 50, a former economics professor and native of the breakaway southern republic of Chechnya, has proved irresistible material for the press.


From his elevated podium, he routinely insults government ministers.


He has been accused of maintaining a 5, 000-man army at parliament under his personal command; a few weeks before the Congress session, he dramatically claimed at a press conference that his phone was tapped and that someone was trying to kill him.


Recently, he said that his daughter had been stalked by a gunman.


The stocky, dark-haired Khasbulatov was the subject of Russia's first sex scandal: Two weeks ago, a young journalist alleged that he had seduced her in his apartment a few years back.


Yet he is consistent on at least one thing: that parliament deserves respect, and that it rarely gets any.


"This Congress proved itself to be a bulwark of our democratic development", Khasbulatov said at Tuesday's press conference to celebrate the end of the two-week session.


The celebrations in fact began the day before, on Monday. During the tense vote for prime minister, Khasbulatov appeared delighted that Yeltsin had been forced to drop Gaidar.


When a deputy said he wanted to ask questions of the proposed candidate, Viktor Chernomyrdin, before voting Khasbulatov joked to the conservative deputies: "He's your man -- what questions do you need to ask him? "