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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Wrong Man To Serve as The Speaker

For an indication of what kind of parliament Russia will have for the next two years, consider the case of Anatoly Lukyanov. Here is a man whose role in the August 1991 coup attempt landed him in prison on charges of treason. Freed pending the conclusion of what must be one of the world's longest trials, he ran for the State Duma on the Russian Communist Party ticket, was elected as an "independent" and now is scheduled to serve as speaker of the body in a forthcoming session.

How is this possible? Even if Lukyanov is ultimately found not guilty of the charges against him, his past as speaker of the last Soviet parliament should disqualify him from a similar role in the Duma if its democratic credentials are to mean anything at all.

But some deputies apparently feel that Lukyanov deserves to be honored. In the chaos of Tuesday's opening Duma session, his name was put forward by a fellow Communist to step in as speaker. He did not take the podium then, but will do so as a member of the Council of Elders, whose eight elderly men will take turns serving as speaker until the fractious Duma agrees on a permanent chairman.

The council consists of the oldest member of each Duma faction except Women of Russia, who declined to join. Although Lukyanov, 63, is not the oldest Communist -- Vladimir Bokov is 66 -- he was put on the council as its oldest "independent."

According to deputies at the Duma, Lukyanov will be the sixth to take a two-hour turn as speaker, following the five men who preceed him alphabetically. His turn will probably come on Friday.

"Today I need to be where I am needed," Lukyanov said on television Tuesday when asked about his role in the parliament.

Apparently he does not feel that he is needed in court, having stayed away from his trial when it reconvened on Monday this week. Lukyanov, with his codefendant and co-deputy Vasily Starodubtsev, tried after the Dec. 12 elections to claim parliamentary immunity from prosecution in the trial. When that failed, he fell "ill," or so the court was told. After that, he did not turn up for the proceedings, although he was reportedly there Wednesday.

Lukyanov's on-again-off-again attitude toward the trial makes a mockery of justice. If he shows he is in good health by attending parliament sessions, he should be held in contempt of court if he is absent on grounds of illness and jailed until the trial is over.

Worse, the Duma's attitude toward Lukyanov threatens to make a mockery of Russia's first freely elected parliament. For the business of a legislature is to make the law -- and what kind of legality can there be when those entrusted with its enactment reward those whose actions flout the law?