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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Duma Vote Won't Help Opposition

Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's veiled threat to resign if he loses a no-confidence vote in the State Duma on Wednesday should encourage the Communists to think a little more seriously about the rather artificial constitutional crisis they have engineered.

The Communists were likely not bent on bringing down Chernomyrdin's government when they put forward the vote. Still less were they looking to risk their current dominant position in the lower house by provoking President Boris Yeltsin into new elections.

Instead, they were just hoping to grab some headlines by a motion that sounds dramatic but has few constitutional consequences unless it is repeated.

Eager to avoid responsibility for the country's economic situation, they were also clearly hoping to stall the government's legislative agenda, especially the draft budget for 1998.

What the Communists are now discovering to their horror is that the government is serious.

Even if the current crisis forces a dissolution of the Duma, the government is less scared of another mediocre performance in fresh elections than it is of a continuation of Russia's economic uncertainty.

The Communists may have been hoping to wheedle Chernomyrdin into sacrificing First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais, whom they abhor.

But this now looks unlikely since Chernomyrdin is staking his reputation on facing down the Duma. Any successor, including Chubais himself, will only be more rebarbative to the opposition.

The decision now lies with the Communists and their allies. Some of them may argue that now is as good a time as any to go for a confrontation. It is true that the communist electorate is dwindling as traditional voters age and the economic situation improves.

But more timorous communists, including probably Gennady Zyuganov himself, will realize that the Party's fortunes are now past their flood and that fresh election results could scarcely duplicate the victory the Communists won in the bleak winter of 1995.

No doubt many of these Communists would like to see the no-confidence vote end in an honorable defeat. If it does, the battle for the budget will begin in earnest.

The government has already offered the Duma face-saving concessions, including cosmetic increases in spending and a delay in the controversial new Tax Code.

Hopefully, the ill-conceived no-confidence vote will fail and the parliament will be able to turn to these truly important matters of policy.