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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Strange Manner of Triumph

A victory for democracy? That was how presidential spokesman Vyacheslav Kostikov saw the outcome of Thursday's no-confidence vote in the State Duma, which fell just 32 votes short of going through.

Up to a point. The fact is that only 54 deputies voted against the motion. Fifty-five others abstained, while 194 assorted nationalists, communists and other malcontents voted to bring down the government. What probably saved Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's skin was that 147 deputies either did not vote or did not show up. This sounds more a matter of survival than victory. Indeed, there are few democracies in the world where the government could go on in the face of such a display of distrust.

But the main thing, as far as Kostikov and President Boris Yeltsin are concerned, is that an opposition attempt to unseat the government -- and thereby to undermine the president himself -- has failed. Hence, the claim of victory.

What the vote showed, however, was that the bizarre way Russia is ruled leaves the government vulnerable. Because there is no party political system, with the government being formed by the strongest faction or group in parliament, the legislature, instead of being a forum for debate between supporters and opponents of government policy, itself forms the opposition.

The government, which is chosen by the president and only in theory approved by the Duma, becomes a football, or worse, like the headless goat in the Afghan game of buzkashi --fought over and pulled in all directions by a horde of wild, whip-wielding horsemen, each with his own objective.

Under such circumstances, the government is always going to be vulnerable to no-confidence votes -- as if the British Labor Party alone had the right to vote on their satisfaction in a Conservative government.

This is not a recipe for stability. But until the country works out a better distribution of power, that is how it will work. The president will continue to rule by decree and parliament will continue to oppose him. Occasionally, through a vote of no confidence, it may succeed in unsettling the cabinet. Then, like a Tsar dealing with an unruly Duma in pre-revolutionary days, Yeltsin will have the power simply to dismiss his legislature and start again.

The answer is to ensure that parliament has a stake in government and therefore a responsibility for it. Yeltsin has already moved some way toward appeasing some of his opponents by proposing "acceptable" candidates for ministerial posts. But until it has a direct role in the selection of the government -- for better or worse in policy terms -- the Duma will keep its role as "the implacable opposition."