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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Populism in Vogue As Duma Ups Wages

The State Duma voted Wednesday to raise the minimum wage and pension 20 percent, as most of the major parties engaged in a competition to propose the most populist laws in presenting their legislative agendas.

Even though few people make as little as the minimum wage, the increase in the monthly payment to 75,900 rubles (about $16) from 63,250 rubles is bound to have a widespread effect since many state salaries are set in multiples of the base wage.

Although representatives of the liberal Yabloko faction and the pro-government Our Home Is Russia pushed for a postponement of the budget-busting measures, both easily gained more than the required 226 votes needed.

Proposals made by liberal and hardline politicians alike ranged from a special law to protect the Bolshoi Theater, to imposing a low ceiling on airfares and decreeing the issuance of cheap loans to people in need of housing. Only Our Home seemed unconcerned with scoring populist points.

The most ambitious of the legislative programs was outlined by Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, whose faction with its two satellite groups controls close to half the chamber.

"Russians only have three rights now: to steal, to get drunk and to be responsible for nothing," Zyuganov told the Duma. "We intend to re-institute the right to work for everyone and the right to get paid for the work."

To this end, Zyuganov said the parliament should pass a strategic program for Russia's development for the next 25 years. Such a program, the Communist leader said, should be drafted by a special "intellectual council," which would consist of representatives of all parties and generally people with the highest intellectual credentials in the nation.

"We should pass a law on such a council, which would generate and discuss all major ideas in the nation," Zyuganov said. "Then these ideas should be approved legislatively."

Although long-term strategy seemed uppermost in Zyuganov's mind -- polls show the Communist leader ahead of his rivals for the Russian presidency by a wide margin -- he did propose a few minor improvements to everyday life.

"We should pass a measure that would make it illegal to charge more than five times the minimum wage for air tickets from Central Russia to the Far East," Zyuganov said. A ticket from Moscow to Vladivostok currently costs about $200.

Zyuganov also defied his critics who accuse him of using one kind of rhetoric on foreign businessmen and another on domestic audiences, by reiterating much of what he said to reassure potential foreign investors at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, this week.

"On a big ship, you cannot swing the helm too sharply either to the left or to the right," Zyuganov said. "That would both get the crew swept overboard and sink the passengers."

Vladimir Zhirinovsky read from a list of bills his party considered as priority legislation, but then slipped into a classic political harangue.

"A bill on coal miners," he read distractedly. "Yeah, we could pass one, but what's the use? I could read out the names of bills all day long, but none of them will ever work unless we change the whole political leadership."

However, he did mention the need for a law on the Bolshoi Theater that would protect it against financial hard times.

Zhirinovsky also described his policy as Russia's future president.

"I will remind you all of Ivan the Terrible's reign," he said. "I will have all the democrats tried, but I will be merciful with the Communists because they're old." Yabloko's co-founder, Vladimir Lukin, said since he is not planning to run for president, unlike Zhirinovsky and Zyuganov, he would concentrate on purely legislative matters.

"Social measures are an absolute priority: Those who do not hear the miners and other people who are not being paid today are not likely to hear anything at all, ever," Lukin said.

He said pensions should be pegged to the minimum subsistence and amendments should be introduced to the Criminal Code to punish those responsible for pay delays. Yabloko is also proposing legislation on long-term housing credits and on cheap housing for the needy.

Sergei Belyayev, leader of Our Home Is Russia, said the Duma should approve legislation providing for reimbursing Russians for the loss of their savings in the price liberalization of 1992.

He also said the Duma should improve the quality of its laws and therefore should pass a law on passing laws.