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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Duma Rejects Kiriyenko for a 2nd Time

The State Duma and President Boris Yeltsin on Friday stepped to the brink of an early election in their standoff over Yeltsin's nomination of Sergei Kiriyenko for prime minister.

By a vote of 115-271, with 11 abstentions, the Duma rejected Kiriyenko for a second time amid angry Communist criticism of Yeltsin. If the nomination is rejected a third time, parliament must be dissolved.

Yeltsin, as he had vowed to do, quickly resubmitted Kiriyenko's name, spurning calls from the Communist opposition to choose someone else.

That set up a final showdown for next Friday, when the left opposition will face an unpleasant choice: Either cave in and look like paper tigers to their disgruntled electorate, or reject the nomination and risk their seats in new elections.

Many observers in and out of the Duma suspect that Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov is bluffing and will in the end free just enough of his troops from party discipline to put Kiriyenko over. But there was little sign of that in Zyuganov's rhetoric Friday.

"We have become hostages of a dead constitution and a president who is absolutely incapable of work," said Zyuganov. "If we do not show courage today, we will be participants in the destruction of the country, and we will receive no forgiveness from our children or from our grandchildren."

Zyuganov left open a tiny chink in his position by saying that "parliament is the only possible barrier that can stabilize the situation in the country." This echoed comments by Communist Duma speaker Gennady Seleznyov, who called for the house to back Kiriyenko to avoid a dissolution.

But more horse-trading lies ahead, and the highly-disciplined Communists would need to hold another party plenum, or conference, to change course.

Yeltsin, who left for a summit in Japan on Friday night, took the news of Kiriyenko's rejection "calmly," said presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky, adding that Kiriyenko would be approved in the end: "We expect the third vote to bring about the result the country needs -- an approval of Kiriyenko's nomination."

Kiriyenko himself said at a press conference after the vote that he had chosen not to trade cabinet seats or make policy concessions to secure his confirmation. "Let's speak clearly: They might not confirm me," he said. "That doesn't worry me. But they can't break my position. I will not agree to that."

He declined to make a prediction about next Friday's vote.The government crisis began March 23, when Yeltsin fired Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and chose Kiriyenko, the little-known fuel and energy minister with less than a year's track record in government, to replace him.

Since then, the opposition has been badgering Yeltsin to give it seats in the new government and demanding that Yeltsin make changes in his economic policy.

Yeltsin has met with parliamentary leaders, but insisted on his constitutional powers to name the government and said economic reform would continue.

Elections place at risk the deputies' jobs, as well as the Moscow apartments and other perks that come with them. New elections would hold risks for Yeltsin, too, as the new Duma, the lower house of parliament, might turn out to be even less cooperative than this one, threatening key parts of his legislative program, including a new tax code. Yeltsin could, however, appoint an acting prime minister almost indefinitely.

Kiriyenko needs 226 votes in the 450 seat Duma to be confirmed. Friday's 115 to 271 vote against Kiriyenko looks like a worse performance than the 143 to 186 result in the first vote on April 10, but this is partly a reflection of different voting procedures.

Instead of the secret ballot used the week before, the Communists pressed successfully for a roll-call vote Friday, preventing any waverers in their ranks from deserting.

This allowed them to achieve near-total party discipline, with 121 voting against and only 2 for (and one of those was Oleg Shenkaryov, expelled from the party for disagreeing with leadership about another matter weeks ago). Some Communists were absent or did not vote.

Communist Speaker Gennady Seleznyov, chastised by his colleagues for saying earlier in the week that he would support Kiriyenko, did not vote. Seleznyov says it is paramount not to let Yeltsin dissolve the Duma and rule by decree for four months before a new one can be convened.

Zyuganov has said this is only Seleznyov's personal opinion, but the speaker repeated Friday that he expected Kiriyenko to be confirmed.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party also voted against, all 50 of them, with Zhirinovsky demanding a cabinet ministry in return for his support.

As before, the 45-strong Yabloko group of liberal Grigory Yavlinsky remained firmly in opposition, with Yavlinsky saying that Kiriyenko's program is a rehash of Chernomyrdin's program, which he also opposed.Nonetheless, Kiriyenko's nomination is still very much alive. The Kremlin almost always gets the LDPR's support in the end, and a significant number of deputies from the left-wing Agrarian and People's Power groups, which have 35 and 39 seats, probably would have defected if there had been a secret ballot. It is not clear yet whether a secret ballot will be used for the decisive vote Friday.

Nonetheless, a Communist cave-in, no matter how well disguised by a minor concession from Yeltsin or by a secret ballot, would cost the party in prestige.

"If they vote for [Kiriyenko] now, I don't know how they're going to show their face to the public," said Oleg Morozov, the head of the Russia's Regions group, which mostly supported Kiriyenko, as did the pro-government Our Home Is Russia group and most independents.