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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin Threatened With No-Confidence Vote

On the eve of the anticipated battle in the State Duma over next year's budget, the Communist faction fired an opening salvo Tuesday, initiating procedures for a vote of no-confidence in the government.

With most factions in the Duma, parliament's lower house, in favor of rejecting the austere budget, the government is set for a rocky ride when legislators begin debating the measure Wednesday.

Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov went on the offensive Tuesday evening, saying that his faction had submitted a petition containing the 90 signatures necessary to put a no-confidence vote on the Duma's agenda. Under Duma rules, the no-confidence motion must be put to a vote within the next seven days.

The government has set Russia on "a destructive course which is completely incompatible with our traditions, history and the task of raising citizens' standard of living," Zyuganov said after a meeting of his faction took the decision to initiate the no-confidence vote.

A vote of no-confidence is a potent threat under Russia's constitution but the procedure is long and complicated and the Duma has in the past repeatedly failed to follow through on threats to use the no-confidence weapon.

Under Russia's constitution, if at least 226 of the Duma's 450 legislators vote no-confidence in the government twice within a three month period, President Boris Yeltsin would either have to fire his Cabinet or dissolve the Duma and call new elections. In July 1995, the one occasion when the Duma actually voted on a motion of no-confidence, the first vote was in favor but the motion failed to carry the second time.

On this occasion, the liberal Yabloko faction and the left-leaning Popular Rule faction have said they will vote for a no-confidence motion if it is put on the agenda. Combined with the 147-strong Communist faction, that would make a total of about 230 votes, enough to pass the no-confidence vote. The Agrarian faction may also be counted on for votes.

However, similar confrontations in the past suggest the Communists and their allies will back down at the last moment. Duma deputies have preferred to avoid a showdown fearing they would risk their seats if fresh elections were called.

Zyuganov was in a combative mood Tuesday. "We are not afraid of dissolution of the Duma," he said. "For us the country is dearer than anything else." But when asked Tuesday if his faction would follow through and vote for the no-confidence motion in a full session of the Duma, Zyuganov ducked the issue.

According to Rory McFarquhar, analyst with the Russian-European Center for Economic Policy, the Communist Party is more likely than in the past to risk the dissolution of the Duma and early elections. It is aware that its mostly elderly electorate is shrinking, and fears that an economic upturn could cost it much of its support, said the analyst.

But he added that the no-confidence vote could also be a bluff. "Brinkmanship is always normal in the first round of these debates," he said. "They'll always try to scare the government into the biggest concessions possible."

The budget looks certain to be rejected when it comes before the Duma for its first reading Thursday.

The key issue now is whether the Duma rejects the draft outright or votes for the more moderate course of sending it to a conciliation commission made up of legislators and government representatives for further negotiations.

Co-leader of the Popular Rule faction Nikolai Ryzhkov said Tuesday he supported returning the budget to the government. But Zyuganov, and Yabloko leaders refused to say which they would vote for.