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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Communist Speaker to Toe Party Line

The State Duma's newly elected speaker, Gennady Seleznyov, said Thursday he intends to act as a political figure rather than a mere button-pusher in his new capacity and that he had no plans to put aside his Communist convictions.

Seleznyov, who on Wednesday beat the old Duma's speaker, Ivan Rybkin, in a contest for the speaker's chair, indicated that he would do his best to push the Communist legislative program, including laws on nationalization, extensive social programs and amendments to the constitution that would increase parliamentary control over the executive branch.

At his first press conference as speaker, Seleznyov listed these laws among the new Duma's top priorities. He said he expected to play a role in pushing them through.

"The role of chairman of the house is not just to push buttons," he said. "Determining the order in which laws are considered, their importance and the advisability of passing them is the role of a political figure, and the chairman can do that and push for the passage of certain laws."

Seleznyov's concept of the speaker's role differs little from Rybkin's, who had considerable influence over which bills made it onto the Duma's agenda and who sometimes earned criticism for holding dozens of votes on bills he supported and dropping other bills when they did not get a majority on first vote.

But Seleznyov's ideas about interacting with President Boris Yeltsin seem to be radically different from Rybkin's. Soon after Rybkin was elected speaker in January 1994, he presented Yeltsin with a big bunch of roses for his Feb. 1 birthday.

"I am not going to do that -- the president and I are not that close, and I am not among the friends whom he invites to his birthday parties," Seleznyov said.

"Obviously, the job of speaker includes interacting with the president and the prime minister," he added. "I know that the information they receive is painstakingly filtered, and I hope it will be useful for them to hear what I say not only as a representative of 450 Duma deputies, but as a representative of the left wing, which is now the biggest group of people in Russia."

However, bunches of flowers were freely exchanged Thursday. Seleznyov gave one to Rybkin, thanking him for his two years as speaker, and received one from a RIA-Novosti journalist at the beginning of the press conference. The journalist expressed hope that Seleznyov would cooperate with the parliamentary press corps.

Seleznyov, who studied journalism at Leningrad University, still refers to St. Petersburg by its Soviet name. But he set out to prove that he is among the more moderate Communists by saying that although he considers the latest phase of privatization illegal, he does not stand for renationalization of all industries.

"No one is going to send marines to LUKoil to tell its managers that their time has run out and the state is taking away their shares," Seleznyov said. "No one is going to destroy successful private enterprises by renationalizing them."

As of Thursday, Seleznyov has five deputies. The Duma voted 359 to 56 with one abstention to appoint them. Alexander Shokhin of the Our Home Is Russia faction became first deputy speaker. Svetlana Goryacheva of the Communist Party, Mikhail Gutseriyev of Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party, Artur Chilingarov of the Regions of Russia group and Sergei Baburin of People's Power were made deputy speakers.

Grigory Yavlinsky's Yabloko faction refused to select a deputy speaker to represent it. The party said it would be too costly to have so many deputy speakers. But Seleznyov said a deputy speaker's vacancy is still open for Yabloko if it ever wants to fill it.

The deputy speakers will all sit on the Duma Council, which draws up the agenda for each Duma session. They will receive duputy salaries, but they will enjoy more spacious offices, bigger staff and other perks, including cellular phones and personal cars.