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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A No-Confidence Vote

The question of a vote of no confidence in the government is virtually at the top of the agenda as the State Duma begins its fall session. At least this is what many experts and politicians have been saying throughout the summer recess. The majority of them were sure that the matter would be raised at the very first session on Oct. 6. However, as that date drew nearer, it became clear that support for the idea was waning from day to day. Presidential aide Georgy Satarov noted this with satisfaction a few days before the opening, saying not only that the idea had been rejected by the six "democratic" and centrist factions, but also that representatives of the Communists and Agrarians had spoken against it in private conversations with him.


After last December's elections, calls for the government to resign became commonplace among the pro-Communist opposition. Moreover, it is believed that as many as a third of the deputies of the Party of Unity and Accord are prepared to vote against the government. This is especially surprising since two of the party's leaders are deputy prime ministers and several of its members are ministers or deputy ministers.


However, in recent days a number of irreconcilable opponents of the government have substantially changed their position. The deputy chairman of Gennady Zyuganov's Communist Party, Viktor Zorkaltsev, stated last Tuesday that it was premature to move forward with the call for a no-confidence vote. First, the government must give an account of the state of the budget for the first nine months of this year. Only then can the question be raised of calling for the resignation of the entire government or just for those of individual ministers. Zyuganov repeated this view at the Oct. 5 session of the Duma session.


Vladimir Isakov, member of the Agrarian faction and chairman of the Duma's Legislation Committee, also spoke in favor of the resignation of some members of the government, specifically privatization chief Anatoly Chubais, Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev and Interior Minister Viktor Yerin. Isakov compared calling for the resignation of the entire government to "beating a dog for doing what it was told to do." However, on the eve of the opening session, Isakov changed his position, telling a gathering of his faction that "the constitution only provides for the resignation of the entire cabinet." He also said that he still opposed raising the question without "detailed preparation."


Sergei Glazyev, chairman of the Economics Committee and a member of the Democratic Party of Russia, also came out against an immediate vote. Glazyev is the choice of many in the opposition for either the prime minister's seat or, at the least, the finance minister's. Glazyev said that the question of the government's resignation could only be raised if Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin refused to enter into talks with Yury Skokov, the head of the Federation of Commodity Producers, concerning demands to defend Russian producers from "foreign companies and financial speculators who currently enjoy illegal government privileges."


How can we account for this steady erosion of support for a no-confidence vote? It seems likely that Speaker Ivan Rybkin's proposal to conduct simultaneous presidential and parliamentary elections in June 1996 played the role of the Trojan horse. This idea -- supported by practically everyone including President Yeltsin, who hinted at a press conference last week that he would back the proposal if the Duma did -- placed deputies in something of a dilemma. Either they could support Rybkin and continue to bear the "heavy burden" of power an extra half year or they could continue to call for a vote of no confidence.


In the latter case, considering that Yeltsin has unambiguously declared that he would not "sacrifice" Chernomyrdin under any circumstances, the deputies might as well pack their bags. After all, according to the constitution, the president can simply reject a no-confidence vote. If the Duma passes such a measure a second time within three months, the president will be forced either to accept the government's resignation or to disband the parliament. The first option seems unlikely, especially in view of Satarov's recent statement that he believes the deeply divided Duma would be unable to approve another prime minister if the government did resign.


As for disbanding the parliament, the constitution says that the president cannot do this as a result of a no-confidence vote during the first year after parliamentary elections. Therefore, if the Duma tried to pass such a measure before December, the country would find itself in a severe political crisis. The memory of last October is still strong.


Yeltsin seems to be making efforts to avoid a confrontation. He has proposed inviting "professionals from the opposition" to take positions (though not key positions) in the government. Zyuganov was quick to say that the Communists would accept portfolios only under the condition of a fundamental change in the current "fatal" course. However, a number of indirect signs lead one to think that they are willing to bargain. The chairman of the Duma's Security Committee, Communist Viktor Ilyukhin, told journalists last week that "we might be able to negotiate if we are offered more than one portfolio."


The problem is that, in taking such steps in order to secure "civil accord," Yeltsin might lose his original supporters. Lev Ponomarev and Gleb Yakunin, leaders of Democratic Russia, have already warned that, since bringing the opposition into the cabinet would inevitably lead to a change in course, democratic politicians would soon find themselves in opposition to Yeltsin. Is this really a risk that Yeltsin is willing to run?





Sergei Tsekmistrenko is a commentator for Commersant-Daily. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.