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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Strong Vote Saves Face For Party, Zyuganov




Although they will still probably cave in next time, Communist Party boss Gennady Zyuganov and his leftist allies' salvaged some self-respect by their impressive defeat of the president's candidate for prime minister Friday.


The 115-271 vote against Sergei Kiriyenko as prime minister undid the embarrassment of an April 10 vote, when the candidate polled much better than expected.


The size of Kiriyenko's loss confirmed the Communist domination of the State Duma, or lower house of parliament, and the leadership of Zyuganov, who is trying to hold together a party torn between extreme-left radicals and centrists.


Despite grumbling from the centrists in his party, the potato-faced Communist leader chose to adopt a hard-line stance, and in Friday's vote he managed to carry almost all of his party faithful with him.


By dragging the confirmation drama to its final chapter, Zyuganov also won some chips with which to barter with the Kremlin over future appointments to the new Cabinet.


"Zyuganov showed that he still commands respect among his party comrades," said Nikolai Petrov of the Moscow Carnegie Center.


But the dire consequences of voting against Kiriyenko in the final vote next Friday still mean that the Communists, who with their allies dominate the Duma, will likely change their tune.


A third rejection would trigger a dissolution of parliament and a taxing months-long election campaign -- a prospect for which the party's rank and file is not prepared. The deputies would risk losing their seats and the perks that go with them.


Moreover, under Russia's 1993 constitution, another rejection would not even stop Kiriyenko becoming a full-fledged, rather than just an acting, prime minister. The head of the Constitutional Court hinted this week that Yeltsin would be able to appoint Kiriyenko without consulting anyone once the Duma was dissolved.


Petrov said Friday's triumphant vote would make it easier for the Communists and Zyuganov to knuckle under and avoid the dissolution scenario.


"[The vote] allows the Communists to keep their gains, without losing too much face when some of them have to support Kiriyenko next week," Petrov said.


Alexander Shokhin, leader of Our Home Is Russia, the second biggest Duma faction gave the same analysis. "Next time the Communists will be voting against a dissolution of the Duma, not in favor of Kiriyenko."


"The low vote for Kiriyenko today builds the foundation for such an approach," Shokhin said.


Zyuganov's big day was marked by a series of tactical victories on the floor of the house. Kiriyenko's loss in the second of three rounds of voting became almost inevitable after Zyuganov persuaded deputies to vote by roll-call and not in a secret ballot.


If the vote had been held in secret, analysts believe many leftists in the Duma would have heeded the more cautious words of Communist State Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznyov and voted in favor of the Kremlin-backed candidate.


Seleznyov had warned that dissolution of the Duma was a far more dangerous alternative for Russia than seeing Kiriyenko head the government.


Zyuganov won his second victory when the vote itself took place. Only two of the 124 Communists on the floor dared to break ranks with Zyuganov in the open vote, and Kiriyenko failed to pass.


With the Communists scheduled in a few months to choose a candidate for president in the next election, Zyuganov showed he cannot -- yet, at least -- be shown up by his younger and more dynamic understudy, Seleznyov.


While few believe that Duma deputies will give up their perks just because the young technocrat Kiriyenko grates on their nerves, the Communist Party remains deeply divided over next week's vote.


"It doesn't matter what the Duma said today. Their decision has simply been delayed. Only what happens next week will tell if the Communists are principled or not," said Yury Korgunyuk, an analyst with the INDEM political research institute.