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Russian Duma holds secret ballot in vote on premier

Kiriyenko addresses the Duma   
April 24, 1998
Web posted at: 4:42 a.m. EDT (0842 GMT)

MOSCOW (CNN) -- The State Duma, the Russian parliament's lower house, on Friday decided to hold a secret ballot in its crucial vote on President Boris Yeltsin's youthful candidate for prime minister, Sergei Kiriyenko.

Lawmakers rejected Kiriyenko in votes over the past two weeks. But there were strong signs that some lawmakers would swallow their pride Friday and vote in favor of Kiriyenko on the last ballot to avoid the disbanding of the Duma.

Kiriyenko has a better chance of winning in a secret ballot. A secret ballot allows deputies to vote against party lines. This means members of opposition groups may vote in enough numbers to help Kiriyenko squeeze through.

On Friday, deputies in the State Duma first voted to reject an open ballot, which would have enforced party discipline. Duma speaker Gennady Seleznyov then announced the vote would be carried out using ballot slips and polling booths.

Lawmakers in the Duma debated the vote on Friday, and Kiriyenko addressed the Duma, outlining what concrete measures he had taken since the last vote last Friday.

Still, it was far from certain that Kiriyenko, who has encountered strong Communist opposition, would get the required majority of 226 votes needed for confirmation.

If he comes up short, Yeltsin is empowered to dissolve the legislature, call early elections and simply appoint the prime minister of his choice -- Kiriyenko.

Yeltsin has no plans for now to visit the chamber to intervene in the debate on his choice of prime minister, the Kremlin said on Friday.

"Boris Yeltsin will closely watch information from the State Duma," a presidential spokesman said by telephone.

Itar-Tass news agency quoted Sergei Yastrzhembsky, Yeltsin's chief spokesman, as saying the president was watching the Duma debate on television in the Kremlin.

Communist leader: 'We will not change our decision'

Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov said the prospect left him undeterred.

"We are not afraid of new elections. We are a serious party and we will not change our decision to vote against Kiriyenko," Zyuganov told reporters before the Duma debate started Friday.

On the eve of the vote, Yeltsin summoned top lawmakers to the Kremlin and appealed one last time for Kiriyenko's confirmation. With reluctance, he also phoned his archrival Zyuganov, and urged him to back Kiriyenko.

"I hated to do this, but I got hold of myself and called Zyuganov," Yeltsin said Thursday. "I told (the Communists) to think not about the party, but about the country and stability."

More political turmoil

The disbanding of parliament and a new round of parliamentary elections would add to Russia's political turmoil at a time when the country needs to deal with pressing economic and social woes.

Debate begins in the Duma   

Many Russians are fed up with the inability of politicians to solve chronic problems and it's not clear which faction would come out on top. As a result, none of the parties has expressed a desire for early elections.

Despite the president's plea, the ruling Communist Party plenum ordered lawmakers to again oppose Kiriyenko on Friday.

"We cannot vote for Kiriyenko because he represents the old course and the destructive policies of Mr. Yeltsin," Zyuganov said.

The Communists have been the most outspoken critics of the 35-year-old Kiriyenko, calling him too young and inexperienced to solve Russia's massive social and economic problems.

The Communist Party, which has 138 of the 450 Duma seats, has made clear it will not participate in a secret ballot. But a last-minute change in the position of two of its Duma allies -- the Agrarians and People's Power -- could help Kiriyenko. The two groups said their members were free to vote as they wished.

Yeltsin has insisted that Kiriyenko, a former banker and energy minister, is the right man for the job and will breathe new life into economic reforms.

Yeltsin threw the government and parliament into disarray on March 23 when he fired the entire Cabinet, headed by long-time Premier Viktor Chernomyrdin. Yeltsin accused the government of failing to improve the economy and living conditions.


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