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Russia anti-government vote could hit Putin allies
June 19, 2003
By Ron Popeski

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Strong backing for a parliamentary no-confidence vote in the Russian government jolted the political establishment Thursday and could hurt President Vladimir Putin's allies in forthcoming elections.

The motion fell short of the 226 votes required to bring down Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov's government. But deputies and commentators were surprised it won the support of 172 members of the State Duma lower house, more than voted against.

"The vote failed, but the opposition's public relations operation worked," business daily Vedomosti said of Wednesday's debate, launched by Communists and the liberal Yabloko party.

"...The fact that a third of the parliament voted for a motion of no-confidence cannot but serve as an alarm signal for this government," wrote the popular Komsomolskaya Pravda.

With parliamentary polls set for December -- and Putin likely to seek re-election next March -- Kasyanov's popularity has sunk. Residents of crumbling tower blocks are angry at plans to raise power and gas rates and overhaul communal services.

Kasyanov and ministers were pointedly absent from the debate.

The figures made clear that some centrists who generally back issues linked to Putin felt unable to support his premier for fear of endangering their credibility.

Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, two-time loser in presidential contests, painted an apocalyptic picture of Russia in his Duma address, intended to strike a chord with millions earning monthly incomes below the average of less than $100.

"Our people are certain to die out!" he fulminated. "Eight out of 10 men are doomed to be failures. So many women will be unable to marry. Single mothers will be unable to raise children!"

Government supporters admitted surprise at the outcome.

"The vote count was really quite unexpected for us. We were expecting a smaller number," said Farida Gainullina, a member of a faction within the pro-Putin United Russia group.

"This would seem linked to Kasyanov failing to appear. Some deputies were upset. In any case, the outcome is clearly a serious signal for the government and the president too."

Putin is certain to face questions on his government's future at a news conference Friday, though his fortunes are not directly linked to his prime minister -- often a lightning rod for drawing criticism away.

But the president will clearly want the centrist majority in the Duma to perform well in the December election.

(Additional reporting by Ivan Rodin)

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