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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Same Lyrics, Softer Tune, in '98 Duma

As it gets down to business in 1998, the State Duma will take up the same thorny issues that bogged it down in ideological haggling last year, but this time around its new detente with the Kremlin could ease the deadlock, analysts said Tuesday.

President Boris Yeltsin has much at stake, as critical elements of his economic program such as a simplified tax code and private property in land are still hanging fire in the communist-dominated lower house of parliament, which reconvened last week after its New Year holiday.

The two sides entered into a more cooperative relationship in the last part of 1997, when the Duma backed away from a vote of no confidence in return for concessions including round-table discussions with the government.

Members of the government and the Duma, including First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov and Deputy Speaker Vladimir Ryzhkov, have said that 1998 offers the last, best chance to get Yeltsin's program passed before deputies are distracted by having to run for re-election in 1999. After that come presidential elections in 2000, and more political jockeying.

Moreover, after the Duma has been re-elected, it cannot be dissolved by the president for 12 months, eliminating one of the sticks that Yeltsin has used to coax deputies into a more cooperative stance.

Although there are more than 4,000 pieces of pending legislation, one fruit of the new cooperation between Kremlin and Duma is agreement on a short-list of bills getting priority treatment during the spring session.

Chief among them are economic measures: the land code, the 1998 budget and the new tax code. Of those four, the budget appears closest to passage, with a third of four readings scheduled for Feb. 4 and the basic parameters of the document already agreed on.

Prospects for passage of a long-stalled revision of Russia's Byzantine tax laws have also improved, said political analyst Sergei Markov, director of the Institute of Political Studies.

The reason: New Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov, a former Duma deputy, is selling the new tax code, not his predecessor Anatoly Chubais, who is detested by the communists. The passage of the draft will also be helped by a general consensus among lawmakers that rates should be lowered.

The new code is designed to reduce both rates and the number of taxes in an attempt to end rampant tax evasion and stimulate foreign investment. An earlier draft, submitted by the government, was heavily revised by deputies.

"I think the tax code will be passed," Markov said. "The reason is, both government and opposition agree in general that the tax burden should be reduced."

"In the view of several of the parliamentary factions, the tax reduction was too small," Markov said. "The new version will be more seriously looked at."

Progress toward compromise has also been made on a new land code that would permit the buying and selling of farmland, a key step toward capitalism in the countryside.

The issue was sent to a conciliation commission in December, after months of deadlock, with communists saying that foreigners and speculators would get all the privatized land while Yeltsin pointed to the constitutional right to buy, sell and inherit land.

Markov was, however, skeptical. "The issue is highly symbolic for both sides. ... The communists may try not so much to develop a good land code as to score political points."

There will be wrangling over cultural and symbolic measures, too, particularly over a bill to regulate and tax pornography and over Russia's flag, state symbol and national anthem.

Yeltsin has submitted a bill to enshrine in law the post-communist tricolor flag, the imperial two-headed eagle that serves as the state symbol, and the national anthem by 19th century composer Mikhail Glinka. The communists, however, want a flag sporting the communist hammer and sickle, and the old Soviet anthem, though with new words.

One area where agreement is perhaps least likely is on the long-stalled START II nuclear weapons treaty with the United States, which ratified it in 1996. Deputy Speaker Ryzhkov says it is not likely to come up in the current session, which lasts through summer.

Communist and nationalist deputies say the treaty, which would cut the number of nuclear warheads on each side from about 8,000 to 3,500, is not in Russia's interests. The U.S. side has offered to address Russian concerns in a START III to be negotiated as soon as START II is ratified.