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Western Press Review: Kiriyenko Question Subdivides Duma

By Don Hill and Alexandre d'Aragon

Prague, 15 April 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Some Western press commentary focuses once more on the enigma of Russian governance, especially the dangling prime minister nomination.

THE WASHINGTON POST: First crack in the wall of parliamentary opposition

"The first crack appeared (yesterday) in the wall of parliamentary opposition to President Boris Yeltsin's choice for prime minister," Moscow correspondent Daniel Williams writes today in The Washington Post.

Williams writes: "The speaker (Communist Gennady Seleznev) of the lower house, the State Duma, declared that it would be better to approve the nomination of Sergei Kiriyenko than to force Yeltsin to order new parliamentary elections in the event of a stalemate."

The writer goes on: "His statement suggests that a split has developed among the Communists -- who comprise the biggest faction in the Duma -- since Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov has insisted his party will oppose Kiriyenko at all costs. Kiriyenko received 143 votes in the first ballot on his nomination Friday but needs 226 to be confirmed. It is unclear if Seleznev's assertion will generate enough new support to give Kiriyenko the post, since the ballot was secret, and it is not certain which lawmakers voted for or against him."

Williams says the main opposition to Kiriyenko isn't really his oft-cited "youth and inexperience," -- he's 35 -- but the refusal of Yeltsin and Kiriyenko to bargain on cabinet appointments. Williams says: "Resistance stems from Yeltsin's unwillingness to reveal who will serve in Kiriyenko's cabinet other than the current defense, finance and foreign ministers. Before the first vote on his nomination, Kiriyenko promised to make the choices public this week but has since backed off. Since neither the prime minister nor his cabinet need belong to the Duma or be elected to any post to serve in the cabinet, the Duma is essentially being asked to act on faith."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: That Kiriyenko is too young and inexperienced is a foolish argument

In today's Sueddeutsche Zeitung, commentator Josef Riedmiller dismisses youth and inexperience as an objection. Experience in Russian politics often is just an accumulation of error, he suggests.

Riedmiller writes: "That Kiriyenko is too young and inexperienced is a foolish argument of his opponents. The only 'experience' that many older politicians have to show, is in doing everything wrong for years. In fact, the 'Little Computer,' as Kiriyenko is respectfully nicknamed, has good chances to render valuable services to Russia once he is voted in. In spite of perestroika, Gorbachev didn't get over the stagnation that Brezhnev left behind him. The reason was by no means in the system only, it was just as much in the leftover staff. Yeltsin is risking a generation leap with the hope that youth will demonstrate clearer understanding of Russia's position than one gets from those long worn down by the dullness of life under socialism."

LA TRIBUNE DE GENEVE: Kiriyenko could find a more responsive assembly in two days

In today's La Tribune de Geneve, Jean-Francois Verdonnet comments that Kremlinology remains the same abstract art it has been for so long.

He writes: "Sergei Kiriyenko, whose candidacy is now supported by Duma president Gennady Seleznev, could find in two days an assembly more responsive to him. But this convergence, if it does confirm itself on (Friday), will not be the result of a compromise or a an emerging common program. It will not mean any strategic alliance, any majority overturning and not even any project that could bring together opposing goals and ambitions before the 1999 parliamentary elections. It would only be explained by circumstances and the dynamics of immediate interest: a repeated rejection of the prime minister would expose deputies to highly risky anticipated elections."

He writes: "It's on this weak spot that Boris Yeltsin, holder of the right to dissolution, is waging his money; betting that the unpopularity and the precariousness of the political class will do it for him. Communists or not, opponents or not, many deputies are sensitive to the threat. In other words, this crisis doesn't reveal anything from the Russian political scene, except for the usual game of maneuvers and combinations."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Seleznev's volte-face suggest opinion may be turning

Writing from Moscow in today's Financial Times, London, John Thornhill agrees in an analysis that Seleznev's support suggests a Communist rift in the Duma. He writes: "As a former editor of the Pravda newspaper, Mr. Seleznev carries great weight within the Communist faction, which has until now been vehemently opposed to Mr. Kiriyenko's nomination. But the Communist Party appears reluctant to force dissolution of parliament that would automatically results if the Duma rejected Mr. Yeltsin's prime ministerial nominee three times.

"Mr. Seleznev's volte-face suggests the tide of parliamentary opinion may finally be turning in Mr. Kiriyenko's favor after his initial rejection in a vote last Friday."