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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

State Duma Rejects Premier in Close Vote

The State Duma rejected Sergei Kiriyenko's nomination for prime minister Friday but the vote was closer than most had expected, increasing the chances parliament will eventually accept him.

President Boris Yeltsin responded quickly to the vote by resubmitting Kiriyenko's name for approval by the Duma, sending a strong signal that he will persist with the 35-year-old technocrat.

Requiring a majority of the 450-seat lower house, Kiriyenko received only 143 votes with 186 voting against. The result avoided an embarrassment that might have seriously damaged his chances, refuting Communist predictions Kiriyenko would get only 50 or so votes.

The first vote by the Duma sets up more bluffing and negotiating between Duma leaders and Yeltsin. Under Russia's constitution Yeltsin can resubmit his nomination for a second and third time. After that, he can dissolve the Duma. The second vote is likely to be held next Friday.

Many observers think Kiriyenko has a good chance for approval in the end, since Yeltsin is unlikely to back down and change his nominee in the face of pressure from the Duma. Deputies, on the other hand, are unlikely to risk provoking him to call new elections.

Kiriyenko's candidacy was brought forward after Yeltsin fired the government of Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin on March 23, saying the cause of economic reform was flagging and needed new energy.

In his 45-minute speech introducing himself to the Duma, Kiriyenko lived up to his reputation as a technocrat, delivering a detailed summary of the government's economic policy filled with facts and figures projected onto a video screen in the Duma's main hall.

He said his government, like Chernomyrdin's, would seek honest budgets, lower and less capricious taxation, and better revenue collection. The only new note was a warning about the size of Russia's national debt.

His goal he said was a "humane, democratic society with a market economy."

But the Communists and their leftist allies, who dominate the lower house of parliament, reiterated their opposition to Kiriyenko, saying he was too inexperienced and had not clearly formulated his government's course.

Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov said he liked some things in Kiriyenko's speech, but the technocrat lacked the political power to carry it through. "We have no more time for poorly thought out experiments and mistakes in personnel," Zyuganov said.

The Communists also threatened to ask the Constitutional Court to block resubmission of Kiryenko's name, saying the constitutional provision for three nominations means a different candidate each time.

Grigory Yavlinsky, leader of the 45-member liberal Yabloko faction, also opposed Kiriyenko, saying that by nominating an unknown technocrat to head the government, Yeltsin was transferring all its powers to his own administration.

The opposition also probed Kiriyenko on the composition of his cabinet. Some have speculated they would like some ministries in exchange for their support.

Nikolai Ryzhkov of the People's Power faction asked: "Who will be with you in the government? This is the question that bothers people."

Kiriyenko said however that selecting new cabinet ministers had been entrusted to him by Yeltsin "and I do not plan to consult with anyone but the president."

The president has said he's willing to consult with the opposition but he made no concessions at two meetings over the past week that were little more than photo opportunities.

The balloting was secret Friday, with deputies using electronic voting cards that did not bear their names, making it easier for them to break factional discipline and vote independently.

Despite the secrecy, it was clear that the base of Kiriyenko's support came from four groups: the 65-member, pro-government Our Home Is Russia, the 45-member Russia's Regions, the two dozen or so independents, and at least part of Vladimir Zhirinovsky's 51-member Liberal Democratic Party of Russia.

Although he often criticizes the government, Zhirinovsky usually backs it on crucial votes and is not considered a genuine opposition figure by most observers.

Zhirinovsky at first said the LDPR would vote yes, then switched to no Friday morning, saying the LDPR demanded cabinet seats in return for its support. At least some of his troops, however, voted yes, said several deputies. Zhirinovsky wouldn't clarify the matter afterward.

Deputies weren't completely assured of anonymity, since their voting buttons are on top of their desks in plain sight. One deputy said however that with a finger on each of three buttons - no, yes, abstain - it takes a sharp eye to tell which way someone voted.

During questioning by deputies, Kiriyenko gave an unequivocal answer to reports he has links with the controversial Scientology religious movement. In an answer to a deputy's question, he said "I had nothing whatsoever do with them."