| Five liberal-minded deputies banded together Wednesday
to make their
voices heard in State Duma debates dominated by the pro-Kremlin United
Announcing the formation of an independent coalition, Mikhail
Zadornov told reporters that the deputies would work "to make
political discussion in the Duma more real and the Duma's political structure
Zadornov, together with Vladimir Ryzhkov, Sergei
Popov, Viktor Pokhmelkin, and Galina
Khovanskaya, were left to fend for themselves when their obvious allies,
leading liberal-democratic parties Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces,
failed to win seats in December's parliamentary elections.
Providing a counterbalance to United Russia, which controls some 306
seats and every committee chair, will be difficult because the coalition
no formal status.
Under the Duma's new leadership, regulations have been changed to
increase from 35 to 55 the number of deputies needed to form a deputy
A group has special voting and debate rights.
Pokhmelkin expressed frustration with such "antidemocratic actions."
His electoral bloc, New Course-Automotive Russia, floundered in the
Dec. 7 elections, but Pokhmelkin, like the others, won a single-mandate
Even the 35-member minimum would have been hard to reach in the
Only 15 of the 23 deputies elected as independents remain outside Duma
There had been hope that a liberal group could reach critical mass,
but that would have been possible only if United Russia had agreed to
some of its members to the cause.
Then the opposite happened when some independents were absorbed by
United Russia in return for various perks.
"United Russia deputies are more constrained than we are,"
said, trying to find a silver lining. "We each have a vote, while
together they only have one."
Zadornov, a Yabloko member and former finance minister, was optimistic
that the new coalition would soon swell to about 10 deputies, saying that
"negotiations are under way."
There is strength in numbers in Duma sessions, where "everything
truly programmed," and even getting recognized to speak requires
series of official requests, Khovanskaya said.
Only Popov, she noted, has successfully gotten the floor, having spoken
in support of the appointment of his Yabloko colleague Vladimir
Lukin as human rights ombudsman.
Popov said the group would push to lower the unified social tax and
improve the Housing Code, adding that its contribution would come on the
margins as it shares its expertise on certain issues with colleagues.
Khovanskaya, a former Moscow City Duma deputy, is, for one, a specialist
Coalition members are free to vote as they wish, but not everyone --
for example, Sergei Glazyev, the embattled co-leader of the nationalist
Rodina faction -- would be welcomed, Pokhmelkin said.
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