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Russia: Duma Communist-Backed No-Confidence Vote Set To Fail

A no-confidence vote scheduled to take place in the Russian State Duma later today will be the first test in parliament of President Vladimir Putin's government. The Communist-backed vote, however, is widely expected to fail. RFE/RL Moscow correspondent Sophie Lambroschini takes a closer look.

Moscow, 14 March 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Russia's State Duma is scheduled today to hold a no-confidence vote in the government of President Vladimir Putin.

But the Communist-backed motion appears set to fail after the largest pro-Kremlin faction, Unity, withdrew its support.

Boris Gryzlov, the head of the Unity (Yedinstvo) faction in the lower house, said yesterday that his group had decided not to support the motion. Unity holds 84 of the 450 seats in the State Duma and officially supports the government.

The Communists are the Duma's largest group. But they and their allies command only about 130 seats. This is short of the 226 votes needed to win the vote. Other groups have said they will either vote against or abstain.

The motion had generated considerable confusion over the past week after Unity first declared it would support the vote -- in order to allow Putin to dissolve the Duma and call early elections. Under Russian law if the government fails a confidence vote twice in three months, the president must dismiss the cabinet or disband parliament.

Gryzlov says Unity's aim of first supporting the vote and then withdrawing support was intended to expose the Communists' weaknesses and turn the motion into a farce.

"Over the past two weeks, the Communist faction was not capable of speaking about what they call the government's shortcomings."

Gryzlov says the move also forced the various Duma factions to clarify their positions on the government.

The 40-deputy-strong "Our Fatherland of Russia" faction, which has irritated authorities by rejecting a government privatization project, said last week it would not support the vote. Liberal faction Yabloko had not made a final decision, and the Union of Right Forces decided to vote against.

By themselves, the Communists can count on about 130 to 140 votes. They're assured of the support of most of their 85 deputies as well as 42 Agrarian Party members and a few odd ballots here and there.

Communist leader Anatoly Lukyanov says that dissatisfaction with government policy prompted the vote. He says polls show that 74 percent of the population say the government is not dealing with its responsibilities.

Lukyanov is careful, however, to keep Putin out of the issue. He insists he approves of many of Putin's policies, especially in foreign policy.

But others say the initiative is just a public relations stunt to bolster the Communists' reputation as a strong opposition party.

The Communist faction was active under former President Boris Yeltsin, threatening no-confidence votes on several occasions and holding votes in 1994 and 1995. In 1999 the Communists led an initiative to impeach Yeltsin on five charges, including waging and losing the 1994-96 war in Chechnya.

Unity's move to support the Communists and then withdraw its support has spurred much criticism. The Russian media spent the week in guessing games over what could have convinced the Kremlin's staunchest supporters to back what could have become a political crisis and eventually early elections.

Yabloko deputy Vladimir Lukin says the motivations behind the vote are hard to understand, but it's clear politicians are not acting in the interests of Russian citizens.

"What is happening now reminds me of card players sitting around a table looking at each other, without paying any attention to what is happening around them, in the room, on the streets, in the country, etc ... An end must be put to this game of cards as quickly as possible, and [everyone must] take a look at what is happening in the country where people are in tatters and hungry."

The confidence vote coincides with growing speculation that Putin wants to overhaul his cabinet anyway. Earlier this year, a row between Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and other government members exploded over whether or not to pay back Russia's foreign debt.