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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Duma Deadlocked in Search for Speaker

After a marathon 14-hour opening session of the State Duma Tuesday, the legislature was deadlocked over its choice for speaker, with neither of the two candidates able to gain an absolute majority in a late-night runoff vote.

In the long run, however, senior Communist Gennady Seleznyov, who won 219 votes in the second round of secret balloting, seems poised to win the post. His rival Ivan Rybkin received only 51 votes.

Seleznyov, a former editor of the Communist Party newspaper Pravda and deputy speaker in the old Duma, received 216 votes in the first round of voting, 10 votes short of the required majority of 226 in the 450-seat parliament. He beat his ex-boss, Rybkin, who received 116 votes, and Vladimir Lukin, representing the liberal Yabloko faction, with just 56 votes.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party and the pro-government Our Home Is Russia faction pledged not to take part in the runoff vote between Seleznyov and Rybkin if it took place Tuesday night.

"You cannot do anything at night," Zhirinovsky told state-controlled ORT television. "We've had enough night sessions, starting with the 1917 revolution." The ultranationalist added that too many deputies had left the hall.

Sergei Belyayev, leader of Our Home, backed Zhirinovsky, saying the Communists were too intent on pushing through their candidate. He said that if they wanted to vote at night, Our Home "would let the Communists and Yabloko choose the speaker."

But Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky said before the second vote that the faction would not switch its backing to Seleznyov, and would instead vote against both candidates. The results showed Yavlinsky was true to his word, but Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov said Seleznyov's strong showing gave him certainty that he would win a fresh vote Wednesday.

The four major factions had failed to agree on candidacies for the speaker's chair despite two days of intensive talks between their leaders. On Tuesday morning there were four candidates for the Duma's top job, made highly desirable by the speaker's high public profile and by Rybkin's inclusion on President of the independents nominated Rybkin, and then announced it would back him. The ex-speaker was friendly with Yeltsin and had a good working relationship with the cabinet.

Seleznyov, in his speech, declared himself a proponent of the imperative mandate, according to which a deputy elected on a party list cannot switch to another faction.

He also said he favored "minimal" parliamentary immunity and a more collective style of leadership in the Duma, allowing deputy speakers to conduct sessions more often than Rybkin allowed it.

But there were still plenty of people who believed the biggest faction in the parliament should not have the speaker in its ranks.

"I would not like the parliament to be branded as Communist-dominated," said deputy Alexander Maltsev, a representative of the leftist Agrarian Party.

Maltsev backed Rybkin, and so did the Liberal Democrats after Zhirinovsky withdrew his candidacy. Zhirinovsky said that if he were elected speaker it would interfere with his plans to run for president in June.

"I will just let you and the Russian people show your love for me in June," Zhirinovsky said.

He also said it would not do "to skew the Duma leadership toward the biggest faction."

After choosing the speaker, the Duma faces the task of picking the heads of parliamentary committees. After that procedure, which requires a new round of political bargaining, the Yabloko faction has threatened to initiate a no-confidence vote in the government.

Yabloko issued a statement Tuesday reiterating its intention to start no-confidence proceedings, which require the collection of 90 deputies' signatures in favor of the motion.

The chamber was too taken up with electing the speaker to pay much attention to the hostage crisis in Pervomaiskoye or the cabinet's future.

Grigory Galazy, a member of the Our Home Is Russia bloc, opened the newly elected parliament's first session. At 73, he is the oldest deputy in the chamber. Although he was not a member of the old Duma, he conducted the meeting smoothly and confidently.

Galazy's performance sharply contrasted with the shaky start of the first Duma, elected in 1993. Georgy Lukava, a member of the Liberal Democrats, had opened the old parliament's first session, but he was so disoriented and timid that deputies lambasted him for stupidity and ineptitude.

Zhirinovsky had to get up to tell Lukava to shut off all the microphones in the audience, which the loyal party member promptly did. In the end, other elder members of the Duma had to rotate as temporary speakers.

In 1993, deputies did not know how to use the electronic voting system, so the first few votes were conducted by raising hands.

A special commission had to go around and count the hands. No resolutions were passed during the first session, which resembled a zoo more than a parliamentary meeting.

It was different Tuesday. The 293 novices of the 450-member house had been trained in the use of the voting system.

They used it expertly, and nearly 420 deputies voted in the first few ballots. That was more than the old Duma could ever boast. Even on the first day of its work, only about 400 legislators showed up.