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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Liberals Snubbed in Routine Duma Vote




The State Duma's liberals once again found themselves snubbed by the majority Friday when what should have been a routine vote turned into a political battle.


The Duma refused to ratify the nominees from Yabloko and Union of Right Forces, or SPS, to the symbolic posts of deputy speaker. Previously, the Duma had agreed that each faction would have its own deputy speaker. The candidates from the other factions had been approved immediately, no questions asked.


Members of the two factions - who along with Fatherland-All Russia had just returned from a boycott of Duma sessions after they were left out of the distribution of more important posts - expressed indignation at Friday's vote.


Sergei Ivanenko, a leading Yabloko member, called the vote "an attempt to neutralize the parliamentary minority with the help of force and to destabilize the work of the Duma," The Associated Press reported.


Yabloko's candidate, Vladimir Lukin, received 194 out of the necessary 226 votes, while Boris Nemtsov of SPS received only 178. While most of the votes against - 133 and 147, respectively - came from the Communists and their allies in the Agro-Industrial group, many deputies from pro-Kremlin parties did not vote at all, thus ensuring that the candidates were voted down.


"The union of the Kremlin and the Communists is not news, but it was never this cynical and demonstrative before," said Nikolai Petrov, a political analyst at the Moscow Carnegie Center.


Petrov said the vote against Nemtsov in particular was significant because it was a clear demonstration of the Kremlin's break with the liberal team of Unified Energy Systems head Anatoly Chubais, the behind-the-scenes leader of SPS.


"The acting president is energetically elbowing out people connected with the previous administration, including Chubais' people, and replacing them with his own people, graduates of the KGB," Petrov said.


The Right Forces' good relations with the Kremlin first showed signs of strain when it took part in the three-faction boycott after the pro-Kremlin Unity party teamed up with the Communists to divide up all the key posts in the Duma.


While faction leader Sergei Kiriyenko continues to voice support for acting President Vladimir Putin, other top SPS figures have criticized him and say the party is unlikely to lend its collective support to Putin's presidential campaign.


Speaking on Ekho Moskvy radio Friday, Nemtsov said there was an ongoing discussion within the party on whether to support Putin.


"We've started to doubt because we have gotten to know the prime minister [Putin] better," Nemtsov said.


On Thursday, Chubais harshly criticized the government and its claim to have handed over Radio Liberty journalist Andrei Babitsky to Chechen rebels.


The Duma on Friday turned down the liberals' call to discuss the Babitsky case during the session.


As for the deputy speakers, Yabloko and SPS deputies said they would most likely resubmit the same candidacies next week.


"There cannot be any substitution of candidates in principle," Kiriyenko told reporters.


Despite its wrath toward the liberals, the Duma ratified 327 to 7 the candidate from their fellow opposition faction Fatherland-All Russia, Georgy Boos.


But when the discussion turned to Nemtsov, things turned nasty. Communist Deputy Yury Nikiforenko said his main traits were "snobbism, arrogance and self-love."


Another Communist, Vasily Shandybin, called Nemtsov "an enemy of Russia and the Russianpeople."


Unity leader Boris Gryzlov urged the Duma to move up the debate on the ratification of the START II strategic arms treaty from June to March, AP reported.


The Kremlin has long urged the Duma to ratify START II, which would halve U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals. The treaty was ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1996, but the Duma has been reluctant to follow suit.