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Russia: Yabloko Party Seen as Top Yeltsin Opponent In Duma--An Analysis

Moscow, 10 October 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Political analysts say the State Duma's budget debate this week indicates that the reformist bloc Yabloko is the most uncompromising opponent of the Russian government spending plan, rather than the Communists and nationalists.

The Duma yesterday rejected the draft 1998 budget in the first reading and pledged to hold soon a no-confidence vote in the government. But it decided not to reject the budget outright and send it back to the cabinet.

Instead, Communist Party legislators joined pro-government deputies, eventually contributing to a 326 to 13 vote in the 450-member Duma to reject the draft budget, but create a trilateral commission, including members of both chambers of parliament and government officials to revise it.

The vote was praised by government officials, who called it a "victory for common sense" and said "concrete work can now begin."

Political analysts in Moscow say that the Communists' performance in the budget debate, full of anti-government rhetoric, but lacking impact, indicates that the Communist party is further marginalizing itself, while still trying to look consistent to its electorate.

They say that the Yabloko faction led by economist Grigory Yavlinsky has now assumed the role of the only uncompromising and articulate opposition to president Boris Yeltsin and his government.

Foreseeing the outcome of the budget debate, Yavlinsky on Wednesday had questioned the logic of the Communist's strategy, calling it "absurd."

In comments to RFE/RL, Yavlinsky said his faction opposes the 1998 budget because it is linked to the approval of a new tax code that he said will not decrease the tax burden and therefore will not help collecting revenues.

Influential economist Yevgeny Yasin, a minister without portfolio in the current cabinet, told RFE/RL that much of Yavlinsky's criticism of the government is fair but objected that "it is impossible to change the course of economic reform now." He said "if Yavlinsky had accepted to be part of the government, he would have realized that this is the case."

Ahead of the budget debate yesterday, Communist party leader Gennady Zyuganov also had tough words to describe his faction's opposition to both the draft and the tax-code proposed by the government. He said the Communists "do not trust the socio-economic course" taken by Yeltsin and his government, as it as "doomed to failure."

The day before the Duma had approved a non-binding resolution, declaring the government's performance during the first nine months of this year unsatisfactory. Zyuganov yesterday reiterated that he did not fear Yeltsin's recent veiled threats to dissolve the uncooperative Duma and call new parliamentary elections.

But a first sign that Communist legislators were ready to cooperate with the government came on Wednesday, when a motion to include a no-confidence vote on the session's agenda, put forward by Yabloko, was rejected. The move came before Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin addressed the Duma on the government performance and pledged the government was ready to compromise with deputies, to avoid the draft budget's rejection and a no-confidence vote.

Zyuganov repeated yesterday that a decision on a no-confidence vote had not been dropped altogether, but simply delayed until next week.

However, First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais said after the vote on the draft budget that the fact that government and parliament would now be working together on the budget meant that a no-confidence vote is "unlikely."

A no-confidence vote, if approved, would still be non-binding. If the Duma approved a no-confidence measure twice within three months, then Yeltsin would have to decide if he wanted to dismiss his cabinet or to dismiss the Duma and hold new parliamentary elections.

The Communist faction has backed off in the past from threats of a no-confidence vote and many commentators believe that behind-the -scenes compromises will lead to the same outcome this year.

Yeltsin and his government seemed triumphant after the vote. Chubais called it, "a great victory for common sense and a defeat of extremism." Yeltsin also welcomed it, telling journalists as he arrived in Strasbourg, France for a meeting of the Council of Europe that "now everything will be in order with the budget."

The commission will try to reconcile the government's goal of maintaining a tight budget with legislators' wish to increase spending in several sectors.

Rory McFarquhar, an analyst with the Russian-European center for Economic policy, told our correspondent that "Yabloko" is reinforcing its stand as the "most uncompromising and intransigent opposition" in the State Duma.

He said everyone "knows the Communists oppose Yeltsin and his government." He added that the Communists use no-confidence threats "to gain as much as they can" from the budget debate, out of the political necessity to stay afloat.

But McFarquar also said Yabloko's position that slashing taxes would boost revenues is unrealistic at the moment because it could raise inflation.

Michael McFaul, a senior associate at the Moscow Carnegie center, wrote recently that the Communist party looks increasingly marginalized since last year's presidential election. According to McFaul, "Yabloko," with its established network of grassroots regional organizarions and firmly identified with democratic principles, could benefit more than other movements from "the end of polarized politics," to emerge as a powerful parliamentary opposition in next elections.