Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Game's Afoot for Top Posts in New Duma

As former State Duma deputies cleared out their offices and the freshly elected picked up their mandates Thursday, new factions were already forming inside parliament's lower house and intensive political bargaining was under way for key posts.

Everything remains to play for, as the next Duma, whose first session is next Tuesday or Wednesday, will have to choose a new speaker and generation of committee chairmanships. The influence, offices, staff and other perks these positions entail are all-important.

According to Sergei Belyayev, leader of the Our Home Is Russia faction, he will meet with Grigory Yavlinsky of the Yabloko movement, Vladimir Zhirinovsky of the Liberal Democratic Party and Gennady Zyuganov of the Communist Party on Sunday to divide up the committee chairmanships and decide on candidates for the speaker's chair.

Some jobs, clearly, are more sought after than others, and the hottest competition is expected to be for the speaker's chair, and for the budget, economic policy, privatization and defense committees.

Sunday's meeting will be extremely tense and it is unclear what compromises may emerge. Three of the four factions are about to propose their own candidates for the speaker's job, but conventional wisdom is that it will go to an independent deputy on whom all parties can to agree.

"There is still a lot of bargaining to do," Vladimir Lukin, deputy leader of Yabloko, told The Moscow Times. "We would like to control four or five committees and we think that is feasible, though we will not put up a candidate for speaker because we do not have much of a chance there."

Zhirinovsky said recently his party would back its member Vladimir Gusev for speaker. Belyayev said Our Home would probably put forward a candidate from its ranks, but he would not name names. However, Belyayev said a winner in a single-mandate constituency might suit everyone, and that former speaker Ivan Rybkin was still acceptable.

The Communist Party's ruling Central Committee will hold a plenum Friday to name its candidate for speaker and announce which committees the party, the biggest in parliament, will want to control. "The smart ones did this long ago," said Olga Barannikova, a staffer at the science, education and culture committee. "Many cellular phones went missing, and even several fax machines have been 'lost.' But now it's impossible to lose stuff anymore: Whatever is in an office has to be handed over."

Barannikova said many of the staffers were uncertain about their future: New committee heads might want to bring in their own people. She added that the former deputies' aides have formed an association that is offering the services of experienced aides to newly elected deputies, especially ones from the provinces who do not yet know the ropes of Moscow life.

"Many deputies hire their wives to add to their incomes, but some may want to hire professionals," Barannikova said.

Former deputies will have the use of their apartments in the new Moscow suburb of Mitino until July so that their children can finish the school year. But some ex-legislators want to stay on in Moscow like their predecessors in the old Supreme Soviet did. They are forbidden by law to privatize the Mitino apartments, but some are sure they can find a way to do it.

"I've given up on this idea," one legislator said. "The competition from my colleagues was too stiff."

But even in the flurry of the move, the bargaining over the next Duma's top positions captivated everyone. The faction leaders held court in their offices. Yavlinsky, whose faction will hold the swing vote on many important bills, received visits from all three other faction leaders Thursday.

The new Duma will start many things from scratch. It will have to pass a new set of house rules and maybe add a few committees to the existing 23. Not a single faction has said it would like to cut that number. "Of course they wouldn't -- more committees means more offices, more cellular phones, more cars," one parliamentary observer said.

A new faction, set up by former Soviet prime minister Nikolai Ryzhkov and nationalist deputy Sergei Baburin, has proposed that the number of committees be raised to 30.

But Ryzhkov's faction, as well as two others forged over the past few days, may be destroyed by some new house rules: Representatives of Yabloko and Our Home have said they might push through a rule that would require a new faction to have no fewer than 50 members, not 35 as in the old Duma. Zhirinovsky is against allowing any new factions at all.

One new faction, led by former deputy speaker Artur Chilingarov, on Thursday attempted to respond by uniting with Ryzhkov's group. Combined, they would have over 60 members. However, Chilingarov's loose alliance includes such well-known liberals as Sergei Shakhrai, Ella Pamfilova, Vladimir Lysenko and Irina Khakamada, and Ryzhkov rejected Chilingarov's advances.

"Some parliamentary factions are being put together hastily, and their platform is not ideological but that of convenience: They will try to win some committee chairmanships and then in a few weeks they will declare that they cannot work together," Lukin said.

He added that he would love to see the last of the endless bargaining.

"I hope that when the Duma gathers next week, it will just put an end to this by holding a single vote on a package of appointments so that we can get down to passing laws at the next session.