June 19, 2003
Push for Cabinet's Ouster Falls Short
By Francesca Mereu
Special to The Moscow Times
As expected, the State Duma's pro-Kremlin majority derailed an attempt by a rather unusual alliance of Communists and liberal Yabloko deputies to pass a vote of no confidence in the government over its unpopular domestic policies.
The no-confidence motion got 172 votes in the 450-seat Duma, with 163 deputies voting against it and six abstaining. A majority of 226 votes was needed for the motion to pass and pave the way for ousting the government headed by Mikhail Kasyanov.
Despite the defeat, both the Communists and Yabloko insisted they were quite satisfied with the outcome, given earlier estimates that their motion would win no more than the 150 some votes they control. They won the rather surprising support of the misnamed Liberal Democratic Party of Russia faction, which has 13 members.
"We would have needed only 50 more votes for the issue to pass," Sergei Mitrokhin, deputy chairman of the Yabloko faction, said in an interview. "This is a good lesson for the government."
Viktor Ilyukhin, a senior member of the Communist faction, agreed. Even if the result was not positive it "was a result anyway: Now people know who the pro-Kremlin factions really are."
With the Duma elections nearing, the pro-Kremlin Unity and Fatherland-All Russia have criticized the government for its economic and social policies. Yet both these factions, which have a total of 136 members, voted against the motion, while all but one of the Union of Right Forces' 32 members did not vote.
In speeches preceding the vote, both Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov and Yabloko chief Grigory Yavlinsky accused Kasyanov's Cabinet of pursuing policies that have led to economic stagnation and social stratification.
"Kasyanov's economic policy is good only for the oligarchs. It is an economy based on gas and oil pipes," Zyuganov said in a 20-minute speech.
Yavlinsky used his time slot to shower Kasyanov's government with accusations ranging from being incapable of carrying out reforms to failing to protect common people from crime.
"The current situation will lead to stagnation and instability," he said. "Changing the government would prevent a crisis."
Konstantin Kosachev, the deputy chairman of the Fatherland-All Russia faction, dismissed the motion as "a show lacking any content." To oust the government six months before the elections "would take the country back to 1999, when Russia was trying to recover from the 1998 economic crisis,'" he said in an interview just before the vote.
The Communists and Yabloko knew their motion would fail, but still pushed for the vote because it was poised to win much-needed media coverage and reflected the public discontent with the government, independent analysts said.
"But with State Duma elections just six months away, it is a good pre-election stunt," said Dmitry Orlov, deputy director of the Center for Political Technologies.
A recent poll by the influential All-Russia Center for Public Opinion Studies, or VTsIOM, indicates Russians are tired of Kasyanov and his Cabinet.
In a poll of some 1,600 people across Russia last month, 64 percent said they no longer supported government policies, while 30 percent said they supported the government. The poll has a 3.5 percent margin of error.
Both Orlov and Vladimir Pribylovsky of the Panorama think tank suggested Yabloko, which initiated the motion, is trying to lure at least some of the protest vote from other opposition parties. Yabloko "wants to attract crucial protest voters, and to become the main protest party," Orlov said.
The party has been losing one percentage point at every Duma election (it got 7.9 percent in 1993, 6.9 percent in 1995 and 5.9 percent in 1999) and is now trying to raise the stakes, he said.
The Communist Party is also under pressure to breathe some new life into its support base. The latest VTsIOM poll shows that 28 percent of those who plan to vote in December's elections will cast their ballots for the Communists, while 23 percent will support United Russia, up from 21 percent a month earlier. The margin of error of this poll, which was conducted in May, was 3.5 percent.
It is this dwindling support that prompted the Communists to support the initiative of Yabloko, a party they had considered an opponent, the experts said. "Not joining Yabloko would have meant that the Communists were for the government," Pribylovsky said.
The Communists made an unsuccessful attempt last September to topple the government when they tried to put forward some proposals for a referendum against government reforms on important economic and social questions, such as free sale of agricultural land, housing reforms and privatization of the energy sector. The Duma vetoed the proposal and adopted a moratorium on holding referendums within two years of national elections.
The no-confidence motion has spoiled United Russia's election plans. The party, which although having government ministers in its ranks has built its election campaign around criticism of the government, had no choice but to vote against the no-confidence motion.
According to Orlov, United Russia is now likely to lose popularity, especially among the poor and those still undecided. "This vote was in the president's hands," Orlov said. "If Putin had said Kasyanov's government needed to be toppled, United Russia would have backed the no-confidence vote."
But Putin believes it is wiser to keep Kasyanov's government six months ahead of the elections, and "United Russia would never make a decision without the Kremlin's approval," Orlov said.
Of the 172 deputies who supported the motion, 17 were from Yabloko, 83 from the Communist Party and 42 from the Agrarian faction. Twelve LDPR members voted for it and the other abstained. Also, one Unity deputy and one Fatherland-All Russia deputy went against their factions' line and voted for the motion.
A total of 163 deputies voted against the motion, including all but one of Unity's 82 deputies and 50 of Fatherland-All Russia's 54 deputies.
In the People's Deputy faction, nine of the 53 members voted against the motion, while four abstained and 40 did not vote at all.
Russia's Regions split, with 24 of its 47 deputies voting against the motion, 14 in favor and one abstaining. Eight did not vote.