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Russia: Duma Rejects Chernomyrdin Despite Yeltsin's Efforts

Moscow, 8 September 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Russia's Duma yesterday rejected for the second time the nomination of Viktor Chernomyrdin as Prime Minister. The Duma is expected to vote one more time on President Boris Yeltsin's nomination. If it refuses again, Yeltsin will be obliged to call early parliamentary elections.

Yesterday's 273 to 138 vote against Chernomyrdin came after Yeltsin met with parliamentary and regional leaders in a last-hour attempt to break a stalemate on Chernomyrdin's confirmation.

Chernomyrdin needed 226 votes to be approved. Yeltsin said he continues to support Chernomyrdin and warned that he is ready to name him as his candidate for the third time.

At the meeting before the vote, a group of regional governors suggested that Yeltsin nominate Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov or Federation Council speaker Yegor Stroev for prime minister. At the weekend, Luzhkov told reporters that Chernomyrdin failed to present the country with an effective economic program.

Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov said his party suggested several alternative candidates for the job --Stroev, Luzhkov, acting foreign affairs minister Yevgeny Primakov, former industry minister Yuri Maslyukov, of former Central Bank chairman Viktor Gerashenko-- but not Chernomyrdin. The Communists and their allies control roughly half of the votes in the 450-member Duma.

Yabloko leader Grigori Yavlinsky declared his faction's continued opposition to Chernomyrdin. Yavlinsky said that Russia "now needs a political prime minister, not an economic one... in order to avoid a permanent political crisis." He said he supports Primakov.

Kremlin spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky and Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov used the same words to describe the negotiations, calling them "extremely tough." This continued until the beginning of the Duma session. But it was clear that Chernomyrdin had the support only of his Our Home is Russia (NDR) faction, of the ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party and of some groups within the Russian Regions factions.

Addressing the Duma before the vote, Zyuganov said that "the country has not been in such a situation since the end of the great patriotic war (EDS: World War II)." He added that Chernomyrdin "with his 6 percent of popular support, would not be able to implement even an intelligent economic program... and would not be able to fight looming dictatorship."

Russia has had an interim government for the past two weeks, while Chernomyrdin has been struggling to win confirmation.

At the weekend, panicking Russians, feeling that the dramatic nose-diving of the ruble and rising prices will soon make it impossible to buy even foodstuffs, emptied shelves in most shops and markets across Moscow and in many Russian regions.

The Central Bank canceled hard currency trading yesterday, as traders wanted only to buy dollars. Currency exchange booths on the streets remained open. Early in the morning, the ruble was quoted at 20 to the U.S. dollar and was being quoted for September 8 settlements at close to 30 rubles per dollar. The ruble was trading at just over six to the dollar when the crisis erupted less than a month ago.

Interfax news agency reported that people living on the minimal salary of 83 rubles at the current official rate could buy 1 liter of cooking oil, 2 cans of canned meat and 1 loaf of bread. The agency said that prices on imported foodstuffs had increased by 100-500 percent over the pre-crisis levels with prices for Russian products increasing by 50-100 percent.

As the ruble continued its free fall, Central Bank Chairman Sergei Dubinin tendered his resignation, giving as a reason for his decision the fact that the Duma is delaying the passing of a number of "vitally important" laws on banking.