#5 - JRL 7236
June 23, 2003
Russia: A Surprising Lack of Confidence
The Russian government survives no-confidence vote, but results are close enough to give pause.
By Sergei Borisov
ULYANOVSK, Russia--An unusual alliance of the liberal Yabloko faction and the communists in the State Duma failed to gather enough support to dissolve the Russian government, six months before the general elections. Despite the defeat of the measure, analysts were surprised at just how much support it garnered.
In sheer numbers, the ayes had it: Only 163 deputies voted against the motion, including almost all the members of the centrist and pro-Kremlin Unity and Fatherland-All Russia factions, while 172 voted for it.
Still, the 18 June no-confidence motion--which Yabloko introduced and the communists supported--fell 50 votes short of the 226 votes needed to pass.
Prior to the vote, analysts had speculated the motion would not attract even 160 votes.
All 17 members of the Yabloko faction, all 83 communists, and 42 members of the Agrarian faction--as widely predicted--voted in favor of the motion. But the 12 votes added by Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s nationalistic Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) caught some off guard.
Yabloko and the communists are frequent targets of flamboyant LDPR leader Zhirinovsky.
In addition, 14 deputies from the Russia’s Regions faction, two from the centrist factions, and 2 independent deputies also voted against the government.
The deputy chair of the Yabloko faction, Sergei Mitrokhin, called the vote “a good lesson for the government.”
“We would have needed only 50 more votes for the issue to pass,” Mitrokhin told reporters on 18 June.
One of the Duma’s communist faction hard-liners, Victor Ilyukhin, said that the results were instructive, even if they were not decisive. “Now the people know who the pro-Kremlin factions really are,” Ilyukhin said at an 18 June press conference.
It was the unusual alliance of the normally diametrically opposed Yabloko Party and the communists that spiced up the vote of no confidence, and each party trumpeted its own reasons for raising doubts in the government’s capability to solve Russia’s pressing problems.
Yabloko officials have said that they believe the government is incapable of carrying out needed reforms in the financial sector, state administration, taxation, and natural resource monopolies and can not defend common citizens from crime.
Yabloko leader Grigori Yavlinsky told deputies before the voting that “the current situation will lead to stagnation and instability,” while changing the government would prevent a crisis.
Yavlinsky said that the government’s pledge not to stay in power due to the upcoming elections made it “impossible to entrust their present work on creating perspectives in the field of economy” because the officials are “sitting on suitcases.”
“One could imagine what the government is putting into those suitcases,” Yavlinsky said darkly, referring to alleged corruption in the highest echelons of Russian power.
Gennady Zyuganov, the leader of the Communist Party--which analysts say is poised to make big gains in the December parliamentary elections--was even more critical of the Kremlin. Zyuganov said the policies of Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov’s government are good only for Russia’s oligarchs.
“It is an economy based on gas and oil pipes,” Zyuganov told his deputies, adding that the country produces “almost nothing” domestically.
He even accused the government of perpetuating a demographic crisis: “Eight of nine men are doomed to failures. Many women will not marry.”
The reference to Russia’s declining population came as a surprise to observers: Zhirinovsky and his LDPR had all but co-opted the demographic issue until now, citing a 10-million strong “surplus” of women in Russia and offering “creative” solutions such as polygamy.
Yabloko and Communist Party officials had never presented the vote as anything but a long shot, and political rivals criticized the two factions for using the issue no-confidence vote as an early campaign tactic for the December elections.
Analysts say that Yabloko is starting to fight for the votes of the so-called “protest” electorate--those who are displeased with the hardships of the time--which has in general been considered to be the political base of the Communist Party.
Yabloko has traditionally relied on support from liberals who are in favor of reform but don’t like the way they have been carried out.
Anonymous advertisers have tried to make the most of the unusual alliance, with an advertising campaign several weeks ago claiming to “unmask” the “alliance” between the communists and the liberals. Billboards placed around Moscow pictured Zyuganov and Yavlinsky hugging, under the inscription: “We are together.”
This campaign seems to have failed, but it attracted more public and even official attention than did the vote of no-confidence. Even Kasyanov on the day of the crucial vote addressed an international economic forum in St. Petersburg and spoke about his government's economic achievements, such as projected 5 percent economic growth this year.
At a press conference on 20 June, Russian President Vladimir Putin told journalists that Kasyanov has done a good job. “There are a lot of issues and a lot of problems. It could be better. But on the whole, the activity of the government must be acknowledged to be satisfactory,” Putin said.
According to a recent poll conducted by VTsIOM, 64 percent of Russians don’t support the government policies, while 30 percent do.
CALLING FOR CHANGE
Opponents of the motion said that it would be useless to change the government only six months before elections.
The leader of the liberal Union of Right Forces party (SPS) Boris Nemtsov went further, saying that Yabloko should have addressed their claims to the president rather than to the government.
“Everyone understands that real political decisions… are made in the Kremlin and the government fulfills a technical function,” Nemtsov told Gazeta on 19 June. “The Kremlin itself is the government.”
According to Nemtsov the Russian president, like his American counterpart, should form his own cabinet and take full responsibility for all its decisions, not only those in international and security spheres, but also in economic one.
The idea emerged against the background of a political discussion that has been unfolding in Russia after rumors that the country’s oligarchs may be trying to limit the president’s powers and transform Russia into a parliamentary republic.
Nemtsov’s proposal has not won much support in the Duma.