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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Premier Says He'll Quit Over Vote

Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin raised the specter of a constitutional crisis Tuesday, warning the State Duma he would resign if it carries out a threat to vote no confidence in his government.


Chernomyrdin, who has been trying to push the government's economic reform program to the hostile Duma, would have faced just a symbolic snub if he were to lose the no-confidence vote set for Wednesday afternoon. But by threatening to step down if the vote goes against him, he ratcheted up the pressure on lawmakers.


After a day of intensive negotiations with Duma leaders, Chernomyrdin said he would not take a no-confidence vote lying down. "I can only say now that the government will not be left hanging in a state of limbo," he said. "Everything will be settled within the bounds of the constitution. And not within three months as some people are hoping, but much quicker."


Under Russia's constitution, President Boris Yeltsin can ignore the first no-confidence vote. If the Duma approves the motion twice within three months, President Boris Yeltsin must either fire Chernomyrdin and the cabinet or dissolve the Duma.


Yeltsin, through spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky, called on both sides Tuesday to avoid getting deeper into confrontation. "The president believes that real opportunities exist to reach a mutually acceptable compromise on key parameters of the draft budget," said Yastrzhembsky.


A spokesman for the government denied that Chernomyrdin had any plans to resign. But Alexander Shokhin, a leader of the prime minister's Our Home is Russia movement, and Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznyov both said Chernomyrdin had told them he would tender his resignation if the no-confidence motion is approved.


Chernomyrdin's departure would not suit the Communist-led opposition. A former minister in the Soviet government, Chernomyrdin is trusted and respected in the lower house. In addition, if he resigns, Yeltsin may nominate first deputy prime ministers Anatoly Chubais or Boris Nemtsov to replace him -- both figures disliked by the majority in the Duma.


Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov told reporters Chernomyrdin's threat would not affect Wednesday's vote. "We have strong nerves," he said.


Some deputies in Zyuganov's party said though that the aim of the no-confidence vote was not to oust Chernomyrdin but to force Nemtsov and Chubais out of the government. "If you want my personal opinion, it would be a shame [if Chernomyrdin resigned]" said Communist lawmaker Alexei Podberyozkin. "He is not such a bad prime minister."


The prime minister also tried to appease opposition factions by conceding to some of the Duma's demands on the budget. According to agrarian faction leader Nikolai Kharitonov, Chernomyrdin offered to raise budget subsidies for the farming sector. And at a closed meeting of government ministers and Duma deputies, the prime minister reportedly proposed delaying implementation of the new tax code -- a move which the Duma has been demanding for some time.


It remained unclear Tuesday whether the Duma would muster the 226 votes it needs to pass the no-confidence motion. Some people in the Duma were organizing a betting pool on the result of tomorrow's vote, with stakes of 50,000 rubles ($9).


The no-confidence vote was initiated by the 149-strong Communist faction. A source close to the Communist faction said that Zyuganov had issued a stern warning to his deputies not to go against the party whip.


The Communists do not, though, command a majority in the 450-seat lower house. To force through the no-confidence vote they must depend on a fragile coalition of the Popular Rule and Agrarian factions, with around 35 deputies in each, plus the 46-strong Yabloko faction and a handful of independent deputies.


A Yabloko spokeswoman said Tuesday evening that all the faction's deputies would back the no-confidence motion. Agrarian leader Kharitonov and Popular Rule leader Nikolai Ryzhkov said they expected around 70 percent of their factions to vote against the government. Our Home Is Russia and Vladimir Zhirinovsky's nationalist Liberal Democratic bloc have said they will not support the motion.


Some Communist lawmakers were already predicting that the motion would fall just short of mustering the necessary votes. Podberyozkin said: "It will depend a lot on Yabloko and on Zhirinovsky. But elements of chance are also important: it requires that everyone shows up and that no one is taken ill."


"I do not exclude that [the government] could succeed in splitting the Agrarians, or that some people in Popular Rule might not vote," said another Communist.


The Communist, Popular Rule and Agrarian factions are scheduled to hold a joint meeting to finally determine their position just before the no-confidence debate gets underway at 4 p.m.


In a measure of the importance the government attaches to the vote, First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais on Tuesday postponed a scheduled visit to Germany. "Experience shows that this is a time when a great deal may be decided over a very short time," he was quoted as saying by Interfax.