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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Pact Allegations Portend Alliance Trend in Duma

The scandal over allegations that the Yabloko faction in the State Duma had formed a political pact with the Communists has highlighted one aspect of the new parliament that will differ dramatically from the old, namely the prevalence of old-fashioned horse-trading.

The fragmented nature of the former Duma meant there was little point in rival factions getting together to vote through specific pieces of legislation. No two or even three factions could get a majority of 226 votes in the chamber, meaning that any attempts at unity usually broke down in squabbling.

But with the present Duma dominated by only four factions, the Communists, Our Home Is Russia, the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia and Yabloko, alliances of convenience are likely to be the order of the day -- and most of them will inevitably center around the Communist Party of Russia.

The Communists control a third of the 450-member house, while its allies among independent deputies provide at least another 60 votes. Accordingly, the support of any one faction can give them a comfortable majority, while the backing of two other factions can bring the Communists close to the two-thirds majority required for overturning a presidential veto.

The Communists understand this, and they hope to strike temporary deals with the other factions when it suits them, as they did with the LDPR on the minimum wage bill passed Tuesday.

"We have certain goals in common even with Zhirinovsky, so we do not rule out voting together on some issues," said Eduard Kovalyov, spokesman for the Communist faction. "Similarly, we can find some points in common with Yavlinsky."

While all parties seem prepared to take advantage of the new strategy when it suits them, this did not stop them from heaping opprobrium on Yabloko during the election of the Duma speaker for attempting to negotiate a deal with the Communists.

Indeed, ever since Our Home leader Sergei Belyayev and LDPR head Vladimir Zhirinovsky first accused Yabloko and the Communists of conspiring to help Communist Gennady Seleznyov get elected as speaker, the mud has stuck. "Yabloko put the speaker's chair within the Communists' reach," said a headline in the liberal daily Izvestia. "Willy-nilly, Yabloko is on the same team with the Communists," Marina Shakina wrote in Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

President Boris Yeltsin took his cue from the press last Friday, when he told a televised news conference that despite its democratic slogans, Yabloko showed its true face by helping Seleznyov become speaker.

Yegor Gaidar, leader of the liberal Russia's Democratic Choice party, echoed the accusations, and his deputy, Vladimir Mau, wrote in the weekly newspaper Kapital that Yavlinsky had agreed to become prime minister if Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov wins the presidential election in June.

But tellingly, both Yabloko and the Communists also accused Our Home and the LDPR of forging a union, and with roughly the same small degree of justification.

In the event, Yabloko members voted for their own candidate for speaker, Vladimir Lukin, and even if the faction had given its votes to Ivan Rybkin, backed by Our Home and the LDPR, he still would not have been elected. Events since that vote make any notion of a lasting Communist-Yabloko alliance seem unlikely.

On Tuesday, for example, when the LDPR and the Communists sponsored a bill increasing the minimum wage by 20 percent, Yabloko protested, saying it would bust the budget. The Communists, for their part, are in no hurry to back a motion of no-confidence in the government, proposed by the 46-member Yabloko -- only 50 deputies have backed the motion so far.

Although Yavlinsky's press service busily pumped out press releases saying that Yabloko would never make a pact with the Communists because "our programs differ radically on most key points," some in the party believe a deal should have been struck.

"I wish we had made that pact," said Yelena Mizulina, a prominent Yabloko member. "We did not turn red -- we remained green, too green for our own good. If we had reached a compromise with the Communists, they were offering us the first vice-speaker's chair and a greater number of committee chairmanships than we got in the end.

"I do not think the Yabloko voters refused to give us a mandate for compromise. The art of politics consists in ramming through one's own ideas through compromises with others."

Mizulina added that a union with Our Home and the LDPR on the speaker's candidacy could have been advantageous, too, setting a precedent for an "alliance of non-communist forces.

"Now we have alienated both those factions and the independents who may have joined such an alliance," she said.

But Kovalyov said any talk of a long-term Communist alliance with Yabloko was "pure fiction.

"This tale is being told by those who want to present Yeltsin as a united democratic candidate and remove the Yavlinsky threat," Kovalyov said. "This is an attempt to discredit both us and Yavlinsky."

Indeed, granted that the four major factions in the Duma are all likely to back different candidates in June's presidential elections, no deals they strike with each other until then are likely to have more than passing significance.