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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

State Duma Opens in Familiar Burlesque

The State Duma kicked off its fall session in burlesque style Wednesday, with one deputy demanding that a special team of doctors be assembled to test President Boris Yeltsin's health for the effects of "chronic alcoholism."


Assembled at their newly refurbished home on Manezh Square, the deputies showed little concern for the mind-boggling 222 bills submitted for their consideration while they had been away on vacation.


Several times Duma Speaker Ivan Rybkin repeated the hope that the session would devote itself to legislation, rather than political squabbling. But several prominent deputies dived straight into the very sort of political squabbling that characterized the Duma's first session earlier this year.


Viktor Ilyukhin, head of the Security Committee, said President Yeltsin was too sick to rule Russia. "He suffers from chronic alcoholism," Ilyukhin said, and called for the creation of a special medical commission to ascertain whether Yeltsin was fit to serve as president. The suggestion was met with hearty applause from some legislators.


Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, one of the Duma's most influential politicians, accused Yeltsin of carrying out a policy masterminded by the West to weaken Russia and take control of its resources. "We have a president nobody controls, a government that answers to no one, and a parliament that can't make sure its laws are enacted," he said, calling for Yeltsin to account for his actions before the Duma. He also reiterated his call for early presidential elections and the resignation of the government. Ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky was visiting North Korea on Wednesday, but Vyacheslav Marychev, a prominent member of Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party, kept up the party leader's colorful debating style: He took the floor wearing a purple suit over a T-shirt and yelled abuse at his fellow legislators.


Marychev's antics prompted reformist deputy Yuly Gusman to suggest that his colleague be sent home to change.


The deputies also buzzed with talk of possible changes in the government and the possibility of postponing forthcoming elections.


Rybkin said it was possible that a Communist Party member might soon join the cabinet. Almost repeating Yeltsin's words at a Kremlin press conference Tuesday, the speaker said it would be "no sin" if a representative of yet another faction joined the government, which now includes members of five parties.


But Gennady Zygunaov, the Communist leader, said his party would "never join such a disgraceful government."


Vladimir Shumeiko, head of the parliament's upper house, circulated a statement in the Duma repeating his call that both parliamentary and presidential elections be postponed.


Rybkin, who has alternately supported and opposed the move, left the door open for an election postponement. He said the Duma should pass all necessary electoral laws before the parliament race scheduled for December 1995, but that it might not be feasible.


"I am sure the Duma can be elected in 1995, but I'm not so sure about the Federation Council," he said, referring to the upper chamber of the parliament, which must approve most of the laws passed by the Duma.


Some Duma leaders addressed the need to deal with the huge number of bills that Yeltsin, the government and numerous deputies have submitted to the Duma.


Representatives of all branches of power met last week to approve a shortlist of 59 bills of the 222 that had been submitted. But even Rybkin seemed doubtful that the legislature would be able to make a dent in this workload during the three-month session.


"It's obvious that the Duma won't be able to deal with all the bills that have been submitted," Rybkin told a press conference. "But we will have to live by the Russian adage, 'Die or sow the rye.'"


The speaker said the session's priorities would be bills on local self-government, taxation and 12 codes of laws on the use of land, water and air.


But reformist legislators were unhappy with some of the bills.


"Who needs laws on 'indicative planning' and 'price regulation'?" asked former Finance Minister Boris Fyodorov, leader of a liberal Duma faction.