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By Irina Ivanova

Who tells Duma members how to vote?

Zhizn (Moskovskie Vedomosti), June 20, 2001, p. 4

There are special people in each Deputy faction who signal to the rest how to vote in a particular way.

The job of a Duma faction's coordinator implies organising a coordinated vote for or against a particular issue. The existence of this function became especially obvious during the heated debates over the law on importing nuclear waste into
Russia, when the faction leaders called on their coordinators to be especially attentive and give deputies clear instructions on how to vote.

The coordinator, or the vote official, is a key figure in a Duma faction. He/she usually sits in the front row and issues signals to deputies for unanimous voting. Signals vary from faction to faction. The most peculiar signals are shown by Farida
Gainullina, the coordinator for the Fatherland-All Russia faction and a former basketball player. She says, "I did not want to copy the hand signals of other factions. Since I spent 15 years playing basketball, I decided to use some of the gestures practised by basketball players." The hand signal used by Ms. Gainullina to invite "her" deputies to vote in favour of a law is fairly standard: one arm raised above the head. Crossed arms symbolize a vote against the current question (in basketball, this is the conventional symbol for timeout); for extra emphasis Ms. Gainullina hits her arms against each other several times. If the result of the vote is of no principal significance to the faction, she rotates two clenched fists and forearms around each other in front of the body (which means travelling in basketball).

The Unity faction, reputed for its stern party discipline, uses the simplest hand
signals: one arm raised above the head means voting against, while two arms - in
favour of a certain law. The Union of Right-Wing Forces (SPS) and Yabloko factions have adopted the symbols of Ancient Rome: a hand with a cocked thumb
facing downward means against the issue, whereas the "hitchhiking gesture"
implies support. In a free vote Sergei Ivanenko, the Yabloko faction's coordinator, moves a palm horizontally above his head. His performance from that of Viktor
Pokhmelkin, the coordinator for the SPS faction, differs solely in that Mr. Ivanenko
prefers to do his work standing rather than sitting.

The People's Deputy Duma group is so disorganised that any party discipline is out of the question. During the vote, the faction's deputies usually start rushing among their fellow party members, trying to hastily discuss an issue placed for voting and work out an unanimous decision. As a rule, during votes the LDPR faction is represented by the least number of deputies among the Duma groups. Vladimir Zhirinovsky, Sergei Mitrofanov and Igor Lebedev are the only regular attendees of Duma voting procedures. Therefore, they vote without excessive noise: the fact that they are seated next to each other in the hall allows them to secretly discuss
voting strategy.

The CPRF faction chooses a single raised hand as the signal to vote in favour of a
law. When a projected law is to be rejected, Nikolai Nikitchuk, the CPRF coordinator, rotates the wrist of his hand above the head. A free vote is signalled
by two fingers waved in the air, as if the coordinator were playing the piano.

General Nikolai Bezborodov, coordinator for the Russian Regions faction, uses his
commanding voice instead of hand signals, saying, "We're voting in favour of the law, comrades!"

A faction coordinator must be exceptionally honest: otherwise, faction members may well be misled. Duma deputies still remember the unpleasant incident with the CPRF faction that took place several years ago, when Oleg Shenkarev, the
faction's coordinator, was lobbying for a certain law among his colleagues. When he failed to legally persuade the party comrades, he pretended to mix up signals during the vote, and the entire faction supported the law instead of rejecting it.

Zhizn (Moskovskie Vedomosti), June 20, 2001, p. 4

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