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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Duma Opener Ends in Dispute




The first session of the new State Duma kicked off Tuesday with acting President Vladimir Putin's plea for cooperation and efficiency but ended in discord when four factions left the hall in protest over a deal the pro-Putin Unity party had struck with the Communists.


The agreement allowed Communist Deputy Gennady Seleznyov to take the post of speaker, which he held in the last Duma. The Communists, Unity and their allies voted 285-2 in favor of Seleznyov after all other candidates withdrew. There were seven abstentions.


Before the vote, Unity Deputy Lyubov Sliska withdrew her candidacy for speaker, deferring to Seleznyov.


Yabloko candidate and Duma Deputy Sergei Stepashin, Fatherland-All Russia leader Yevgeny Primakov and Union of Right Forces Deputy Viktor Pokhmelkin also withdrew their candidacies in protest over the Unity-Communist deal. The deputies from Yabloko, Fatherland-All Russia, Right Forces and some from Russia's Regions subsequently walked out.


"This is an insult to the Russian parliament, an insult to the country, which as a result of this will get a helpless, incapable parliament," Russia's Regions leader Oleg Morozov said before leaving. His group had been expected to vote the Kremlin line.


The Right Forces faction, which previously had been considered Unity's main ally in the new Duma, parliament's lower house, was indignant at Unity's deal with the Communists.


"This is a serious difference of opinion," Right Forces leader Boris Nemtsov said on NTV television's "Geroi Dnya" program. "We had every chance to elect together with Unity a deserving chairman of the State Duma."


As the Communists and Unity were negotiating, observers speculated that the pro-Kremlin party would receive many important committee posts in exchange for handing the Communists the speakership.


However, Nemtsov said that, according to a plan circulated by the two factions in the Duma, the Communists would get nine committees, which he described as "key committees," and Unity would get only seven.


Nemtsov said his faction, Yabloko and Fatherland-All Russia then agreed to leave the meeting and refuse any committee posts.


Earlier in the day, before the agreement was final, Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky slammed the Kremlin for negotiating with the Communists, comparing such a deal to the Soviet-Nazi nonagression pact of 1939.


"We are surprised by the policy of the Kremlin, the policy of the presidential administration, the policy of Unity - who did not think of anything better than to create an inviolable bloc of Communists and unprincipled people on the very first day," he told journalists during the first break.


After his election, Seleznyov did not mince words about his feelings toward those who walked out.


"I can only express regret that some of our colleagues don't understand democracy, as they demonstrated," he said after taking the speaker's chair. "They realized that they were losing this game, so they organized this demarche."


Seleznyov took his old seat at 8:30 p.m., 10 1/2 hours after the Duma began its session. The deputies spent most of the day in back-room negotiations. In the early evening, the mood turned nasty when Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov proposed that the members of the large factions meet without the "minority" factions.


Nemtsov said the two biggest factions simply got together and worked out a scheme to alienate the smaller parties.


"Two people got together - Gennady Zyuganov and a Unity representative, I don't even know who - and, roughly speaking, chopped up the committees," he said.


He questioned the wisdom of the Kremlin's decision to put Seleznyov back in the speaker's chair, pointing out that by putting the Communists in charge of the Duma, they were providing them with an excellent campaign headquarters for Zyuganov's presidential bid against Putin in March.


Inde ed, it was difficult to understand why the Kremlin decided to work with the Communists and not the liberals. Immediately after the elections, the most likely candidate for speaker was considered Stepashin, who, while a member of the Yabloko faction, is seen as more loyal to the Kremlin than Seleznyov.


But Vladimir Pribylovsky, head of the Panorama research center, said Stepashin would not have been acceptable to all of the Kremlin's allies, especially People's Deputy, a grouping of 58 diverse lawmakers who ran independently but have pledged loyalty to Putin.


While Unity's deal with the Communists was likely struck with Putin's full approval, the acting president advocated a liberal agenda in his remarks to the legislature. He urged the deputies to pass the long-awaited criminal, civil and land codes and to pass a law on alternative service, which is guaranteed by the Constitution but not provided for in law.


In his speech at the beginning of the Duma session, Putin urged cooperation between the legislative and executive branches.


"The second half of last year can in many ways be considered an example of the efficiency and cooperation of the executive and legislative branches," he said. "It showed that government can be unified and consolidated."


Few doubted that the Duma would be cooperative, but before this week Putin's main allies there, besides Unity, were thought to be the liberals, not the Communists.


But in explaining Unity's consideration of a deal with the Communists, faction head Boris Gryzlov echoed Putin.


"Our motto is unity and consolidation," he told journalists.