| To the strains of the national anthem, a half-empty State
Duma on Friday ended its last session before new elections Dec. 7, having
rushed through a last-minute flurry of largely economic measures.
the chamber, which emptied through the day as deputies left to go on the
campaign stump, a handful of opposition lawmakers were drowned out by
a chorus of self-congratulation from pro-Kremlin lawmakers.
Deputies passed the final readings of bills on the 2004 budget, bank
deposit insurance and cutting stock market trading fees.
Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin welcomed the 245-151 passing of the budget,
which included approval of a new stabilization fund aimed to create a
cushion against plunging oil prices.
"After the creation of a stabilization fund, the prospect of Russia
defaulting in the foreseeable future ... has greatly receded," Kudrin
said after the session. "This is a great final accord of the work
done by the Duma. It's a bill to be proud of."
The budget requires that the government place between $5 billion and
$6 billion in the stabilization fund next year, but is not allowed to
spend from the fund until it totals 500 billion rubles ($16.8 billion).
The budget provides for a surplus of 0.5 percent of GDP, abolishes the
sales tax and cuts value-added tax to 18 percent. Inflation is predicted
to fall to between 8 percent and 10 percent next year -- down from a predicted
12 percent this year.
The Duma voted 371-0 to approve a bill insuring bank deposits, which
is expected to aid the modernization of the banking system and protect
private depositors against loss if banks go bankrupt.
Under the bill, expected to come into force on Jan. 1, deposits of up
to 100,000 rubles will be fully insured, while deposits in state-owned
Sberbank will be insured through a separate government fund until 2007.
The administration aimed to speed the amendments through three readings
without debate, but after the Union of Right Forces and Yabloko factions
said they would not approve a second reading unless their objections were
taken into account, the bill passed only a cursory first reading.
In televised comments Friday, President Vladimir Putin thanked outgoing
deputies for their "joint, creative and intensive work" and
said he expected the same from the new Duma.
"If the Duma is efficient, a president can do a lot together with
the parliament," he said. "But if the Duma is involved in internal
intrigues and posing before cameras ... the president will be tied hand
Pro-Kremlin deputies reacted to the end of the parliamentary session
with mutual congratulation, yet some oppositionists warned of a creeping
"We have accomplished a great deal," said Deputy Speaker Lyubov
Sliska. "History will judge us, but this Duma has accomplished much
more than all the previous ones."
But independent reformist lawmaker Vladimir Ryzhkov said he hoped future
deputies "won't be slaves of the executive power."
"I want to wish them courage," he said. "Every deputy
must understand that above him is only his conscience and his voters."
Earlier Friday, Sergei Mitrokhin,
deputy chief of Yabloko's Duma faction, told a group of several dozen
party supporters outside the parliament that "authoritarian tendencies"
were on the rise in the country.
The party's protesters held placards reading "Duma, Adopt Yabloko's
Bills!" and "Deputies, Don't Play the Fool on the Last Day!"
Deputies also voted to:
- Ratify an agreement freeing foreign organizations working to dismantle
Soviet-era nuclear submarines from tax and accident liability;
- Approve on final reading a cut in trading fees for companies selling
stocks and bonds from 0.8 percent to 0.2 percent; and
- Give first readings to bills on introducing contract service into
the armed forces by 2007 and extending the maximum period of detention
without charge from 10 days to 30 days.
the original at
Elections to the State Duma,