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Moscow Times
May 7, 2003
The Race Is on for Ombudsman Post
By Andrei Zolotov Jr.
Staff Writer

When the State Duma reconvenes after the May holidays, one of the main items on its agenda will be the appointment of a new ombudsman, and the incumbent ombudsman, Oleg Mironov, is running neck-and-neck with former Justice Minister Pavel Krasheninnikov for election.

Deputy Duma Speaker Irina Khakamada said last week that the appointment of Krasheninnikov, a Union of Right Forces deputy and head of the Duma's legislation committee, is all but fact.

"Krasheninnikov is simply tired of working in the Duma," Khakamada, who co-chairs the Union of Right Forces, or SPS, was quoted by Gazeta as saying. "He wanted to either return to the executive branch or become the human rights commissioner. His confirmation for the ombudsman's post by the Duma has practically been decided. We will miss him."

The ombudsman cannot have any political affiliations.

The official Rossiiskaya Gazeta reported last month that the pro-Kremlin factions -- United Russia and People's Deputy -- had decided to support Krasheninnikov, 39, who served as justice minister in the cabinets of Sergei Kiriyenko, Yevgeny Primakov and Sergei Stepashin.

A Duma source said Tuesday that Krasheninnikov appears to be the Kremlin's choice and, with pro-Kremlin factions and SPS voting for him, his chances of winning the 300 votes needed for nomination and the 226 needed for confirmation are high.

Mironov's five-year term expires on May 22. The ombudsman receives complaints and petitions and lobbies the government over human rights.

Liberal politicians and the human rights community, which was upset about the departure of the previous and first ombudsman, former dissident Sergei Kovalyov, initially heaped criticism on the appointment of Mironov, 63, a law professor who was a Communist deputy at the time of his election in 1998.

Eventually, however, human rights activists changed their minds about Mironov, saying he was eager to learn on the job. They now are throwing their support behind his bid for reelection over Krasheninnikov, whom they see as a pro-Kremlin figure.

In recent weeks Mironov and Krasheninnikov have met with members of the Duma factions and human rights community to campaign for the post.

A Yabloko source said Tuesday that the party was likely to vote for Mironov. As a former Communist, Mironov also is certain to win the support of his former colleagues.

Lyudmila Alexeyeva, head of the Moscow Helsinki Group human rights organization, described reports about Krasheninnikov's certain election as hype and said she would prefer to work with Mironov.

"During these five years he has learned to perform these functions well," Alexeyeva said by telephone Tuesday. "I don't see another person to fill this position now. Whoever is appointed will have to begin learning from square one, and I am afraid that, as in Mironov's case, it will take about half of the term to do that."

Alexeyeva said Krasheninnikov met with several leading human rights activists in her office last month and they had expressed their disappointment with his support of the law on extremism and opposition to alternative military service.

She said Kremlin officials had consulted her about the election and she had voiced her support for Mironov.

Mironov said Tuesday that he was "calm" about the upcoming vote but hinted he was displeased with widespread media reports that Krasheninnikov would be picked.

"I live in the same house as Krasheninnikov, and I told him, 'It's normal that you are claiming my post, but let's observe legal and ethical norms,'" Mironov said by telephone. "My term expires on May 22, and I plan to serve it out. I won't criticize a single candidate for the job, and there will probably be about 10 of them."

Krasheninnikov could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

During his tenure, Mironov has built the post of human rights commissioner into an institution. Besides its Moscow office, it has offices with commissioners in 22 of the country's 89 regions.

It was not clear Tuesday when the Duma vote would take place. Under the law, a decision must be reached within 30 days of the expiration of the previous term.

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