The 2002 draft budget submitted by the Cabinet, together with
a whole package of unfinished bills, await Duma deputies. By the
end of the year the Duma is supposed to adopt the Labour Code
in the second reading and Land Code in the third and continue
its work on pension reforms and tax-related legislation. The new
budget is calculated with new tax tariffs already, and the most
important issue of pension reforms has still to be resolved –
where will the money be accumulated and who will control the money
that Russians stash away against old age. Clearly the deputies
will be prevented this time from focussing solely on their pet
subject: the cutting up of the budget pie. The Kremlin and the
Cabinet have warned the Duma sternly that the budget should be
adopted without any fuss. Any dissenting voices should beware.
The executive branch is keeping a couple of cards up its sleeve.
Literally any moment it may propose the abolition of Duma committees
and im! provements to the structure of the lower house of parliament.
It isn't hard to see who will be the first to be told to vacate
Duma committees. The Cabinet no longer needs to bother with compromises
with the Communist Party for the sake of the budget. Moreover,
the Fatherland - All Russia faction is going to become much more
obedient, now that Yevgeny Primakov is leaving the faction. On
the other hand, some bargaining will take place all the same.
We talked to some prominent deputies to discuss the new political
season. Communist functionaries were the only ones to officially
decline our invitation.
QUESTION: IN YOUR OPINION, WHAT WILL BE THE FOCUS OF
THE MOST HEATED DEBATES IN THE DUMA?
Irina Khakamada, Duma Deputy Speaker, Union of Right-Wing
Forces: Discussion of the budget and the second reading of
the Labour Code will be particularly difficult. The government
wants the budget to be adopted "without any bargaining"
but I don't think that this is possible. The Duma is bound to
decide that anticipated revenues are artificially underestimated.
Naturally deputies are not going to turn down the budget and run
the risk of disbandment of the Duma, but some fighting is bound
Vladimir Zhirinovsky, Duma Deputy Speaker, LDPR: The
budget will be adopted as well as all other draft laws forwarded
by the government. Sure, deputies will make some noise at first,
but don't expect anything serious. Communists will make a fuss
over the outcome of the gubernatorial election in Rostov region,
other deputies might raise the issuer of Chechnya, Ingushetia
and Lensk. The right will demand a parliamentary panel in connection
with publication of excerpts from defector Litvinenko's book by
the Novaya Gazeta. Nothing extraordinary, in other words.
The government controls 250 votes in the Duma which makes adoption
of the budget an inevitability. Of course, the situation may become
tricky if the LDPR decided to withdraw its votes and the Russian
Regions and the People's Deputy were struck by indecision. On
the other hand, this is the only draft budget we are going to
get. Nobody will give us another one.
Gennadi Raikov, the People's Deputy Group: This is the
first such budget in the country. The government suggests almost
doubling its revenues to form reserves against the 2003 problem.
We consider the decision absolutely correct. On the other hand,
there are nuances in the draft budget that we disagree with -
a great deal of federal programmes are to become history, the
budget ratio of the centre/regions is clearly lopsided. I think
the ratio will become the focus of some heated discussions. The
government will be traditionally blamed for intentionally concealing
revenues. The work on the budget will be difficult. All the same,
the major postulates of the governmental draft budget will be
adopted. After thanking the government for the budget and forwarding
it to the Duma on time, the president made it clear that he would
not even contemplate the disbandment of the Cabinet if the budget
were to be turned down.
Sergei Ivanenko, deputy leader of the Yabloko faction:
I have no doubt that the budget will be adopted. Notwithstanding
the intrigues and the bargaining, voting is always a political
issue related to confidence in the government. The political structure
of the Duma is such that it is loyal to the president and the
government. Precisely for this reason the budget battles that
really count will take place behind the scenes and not in the
conference hall. The outcome of the eventual ballot will be what
the government wants.
Vladimir Pekhtin, Unity faction leader: We will back
the government parameters of the budget. If and when additional
revenues do appear, we will decide what is to be done with them
and how they are to be used and controlled when the day comes.
Of course, adoption of the budget and other vital draft laws will
be accompanied by serious discussions and debates, but discussions
should be constructive. Unfortunately, it is impossible to seek
compromises or even argue with the left these days. You can only
argue with someone who is prepared to agree with you on at least
QUESTION: SHOULD WE EXPECT CHANGES IN THE DUMA STRUCTURE
AND ITS SENIOR POSITIONS?
Khakamada: Gennadi Seleznev will retain his post, but
redistribution and reduction of Duma committees is quite possible.
But only with the Kremlin's blessing. It will mean in the long
run that the Kremlin doesn't want to dismiss the Duma.
Zhirinovsky: Blah, blah, blah. Nothing of the kind is
going to happen. This is the best possible Duma for the Kremlin,
the presidential administration has never yet had so loyal a Duma.
The presidential administration should cherish this Duma because
another one might be worse. Naturally, structural changes are
needed. The apparatus is too bulky. Why keep 2,000 officials?
Seven hundred would suffice... It is time Seleznev stepped down,
we need someone else in his place. He'd have gone away long ago
but he doesn't have anywhere to go. Again, everything will depend
on how Unity reaches agreement with the Communists.
Raikov: Reduction in the number of Duma committees is
still on the agenda. By the way, the initiative was put forth
by our group. The coordinating committee of four factions and
groups resolved to return to the matter after the vacation. I
would not want tension artificially escalated around it. We are
not out to punish anyone or anything. We merely want to upgrade
the culture of the Duma's work.
Ivanenko: The proposals to improve the Duma structure
are correct of course and we are prepared to back them. It doesn't
really matter what the Yabloko may expect to gain. The existing
structure is truly ineffective... On the other hand, I don't think
we should expect any changes on a truly grand scale.
Pekhtin: There are too many committees in the Duma indeed.
Some of them may be merged.
QUESTION: DO YOU THINK THIS DUMA WILL LAST ITS TERM?
Khakamada: The Kremlin may have its own reasons for wanting
to disband the Duma, but the Constitution states it may be done
on two occasions only – a vote of no-confidence in the government
and repeated refusal to endorse the prime minister. Clearly, there
is the problem of putting a gap between the presidential and parliamentary
elections (or removing it, on the contrary) but this issue could
be resolved without disbanding the Duma.
Zhirinovsky: The Duma should be allowed to work to the
end of its term and even beyond to make sure that the presidential
and parliamentary elections take place at the same time in March
2004. Otherwise the electoral campaign will last nine months from
August 2003 to April 2004.
Raikov: I think it will. Why not? There are no reasons
to disband the Duma. The president appreciates our work.
Ivanenko: Despite the stabilization, it is more difficult
to make forecasts for the next two years in Russia than it is
to make them for 50 years in Europe. I cannot see any reasons
for disbanding the Duma at this point. Presidential and parliamentary
elections and the question of whether or not they should be organized
together is not a reason. It is rather a wish of some political
technologists in the Kremlin's employ.
Pekhtin: We plan to work until our terms expire. There
is too much work to be done. I do hope there will be no emergencies
that could necessitate early parliamentary elections.