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World - Europe

Yeltsin, Communists still at odds over Chernomyrdin

duma
The Duma debates before voting on Chernomyrdin  

Duma debate resumes

September 7, 1998
Web posted at: 10:22 a.m. EDT (1422 GMT)

MOSCOW (CNN) -- Russian President Boris Yeltsin and opposition lawmakers remained at odds Monday as Russia's lower house of parliament, the State Duma, opened a session to discuss whether to approve Viktor Chernomyrdin as prime minister.

The opposition-dominated Duma decided to hold an open vote on Chernomyrdin this Friday, reducing his chances of being confirmed.

An open ballot does not allow individual deputies to break party ranks. The Communists, the biggest party in the Duma, said they would vote solidly against Chernomyrdin.

"Our stance remains unchanged," Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov told reporters after consultations with Yeltsin on Monday. "(Chernomyrdin) doesn't even understand the program he has proposed."

chernomyrdin
Chernomyrdin addresses the Duma Monday  

Yeltsin reiterated support for Chernomyrdin and appealed to the Duma to give his nominee "a six- to eight-month trial period," Kremlin spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky said.

A yes vote in the Duma could ease Russia's severe economic crisis; a no vote could worsen it.

Russia has had an interim government for the past two weeks, and Chernomyrdin, as acting prime minister, has been struggling to win confirmation from an opposition- dominated parliament, leaving little time to devote to the country's financial problems.

The Duma has already rejected Chernomyrdin once -- one week ago -- giving him only 94 "yes" votes in the 450-seat lower house. If Chernomyrdin is rejected again, another ballot must be held within a week.

A third vote against him would mean the dissolution of the Duma and new elections.

Ruble rocked again

Russia's beleaguered markets received another jolt on Monday when the ruble crashed again and Central Bank Chairman Sergei Dubinin offered to resign.

Dubinin
Dubinin offered his resignation Monday as Central Bank chairman  

The Central Bank canceled hard currency trading as traders wanted only to buy dollars, not to sell them. However, currency exchange booths on the streets remained open.

At the start of Monday's trading, the ruble was quoted at 20 to the U.S. dollar, down from 17 to the dollar on Friday.

The ruble was trading at just over six to the dollar when the crisis erupted less than a month ago.

On the eve of the Duma vote, Chernomyrdin spoke on national television, telling Russians that the nation cannot afford to be without a government during these turbulent times. In recent weeks, the Russian economy has been in a free fall, with the ruble being devalued and inflation soaring to unprecedented levels.

"Here we have Russia, an entire country, with no leader for two weeks. You want Chernomyrdin, with his hands tied, to deal with these problems in a matter of days? He can't," he said on NTV television. "We need a team. We need a government and action. And we have none of these."

Chernomyrdin outlined a plan to put the economy on track, with international financing needed to pay salaries and pensions and other debts. Foreign exchange and gold reserves had to be doubled at least, he said.

Chernomyrdin: Russia must avoid retrenchment

Yeltsin sacked his Cabinet two weeks ago, including then-Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko. Chernomyrdin, who was premier from December 1992 until March of this year, was re-nominated for the post by Yeltsin, but has faced major opposition in parliament.

In his televised comments Sunday, Chernomyrdin said that during his five years in power, he kept Russia from being pitched into two world financial crises. He also emphasized Russia must avoid retrenchment into Soviet-style economic isolation.

"There must not be in Russia what many people think will happen -- revolt sweeping all, including the authorities before it, and then others riding in on white steeds straight to the Kremlin," he said. "That must not be allowed to happen."

INTERACTIVE:
» Who are the key players in Russian politics?
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» Just what does the Duma do?
Get the facts on Russia's government.

» Yeltsin's shoes:
Get a brief timeline of Russian leaders since Stalin

Chernomyrdin also sent a message Sunday to the finance ministers of Britain, Germany, France and Italy saying that "with the help of the international community, we will manage to stabilize the situation," Russian news agencies reported.

The letter was a response to Britain's decision to call an emergency meeting of other members of the Group of Eight industrialized countries that would consider how to help Russia's new government when it is formed.

Opposition says premier must be 'trusted by the people'

Zyuganov said in a television interview Sunday night that his party and their allies would vote against Chernomyrdin.

Russia needs a government "trusted by the people, including both houses of parliament," Zyuganov said.

Both he and Grigory Yavlinsky, leader of the liberal Yabloko party, said that Chernomyrdin had not earned that trust. Zyuganov also has produced a list of five alternate candidates, including the unexpected choice of acting Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov.

However, extreme nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky threw his support behind the acting premier and predicted the Duma would ultimately approve him.

A secret ballot in Monday's vote could prompt nominal adversaries to break party discipline and support Chernomyrdin. With an open ballot, allies of the prime minister have indicated it will be even tougher for him to secure the necessary 226 votes he needs to win.

Moscow Bureau Chief Jill Dougherty, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.
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