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Lawmakers reshuffle committee posts, forcing Communist Party to lose top positions

Associated Press, April 3, 2002

MOSCOW - Russia's lower house of parliament voted Wednesday to reshuffle the leaders of its legislative committees in a bid to give more power to centrist factions - at the expense of the Communist Party.

The State Duma's decision, approved by a vote of 251-136 with seven abstentions, removed Communist Party members from their leadership posts in seven committees. That left the once-powerful party holding the leadership of only two minor committees.

The Communist Party immediately resigned the chairmanship of those two committees - Culture and Tourism and Public and Religious Organizations - in protest.

"The State Duma has turned into a seal stamping the decisions of the president and government," Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov said.

The biggest winner in Wednesday's reshuffle was the Fatherland-All Russia party, which gained three leadership posts, bringing its total to five. The centrist party has joined forces with leading pro-Kremlin parties and given its firm backing to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Other winners were the liberal Union of Right Forces, which gained two leadership positions for a total of three, and the liberal Yabloko party, which gained its first leadership post. In total, the State Duma has 28 committees, headed by leaders from nine parties.

The previous alignment of leadership posts had been agreed two years ago when the Communists held more sway, forcing the smaller, centrist parties to cut deals with them. The Communists have not lost any seats in the intervening years, but the Kremlin's domination of political life in Putin's first term has reduced their influence.

The Communist Party tried to stop the reshuffle, but failed to muster enough support.

"Left forces have been deprived of the last opportunity to influence state policy," Zyuganov said after the vote.

The decision to reshuffle the leadership posts also renewed pressure on Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznyov, a Communist, to leave his post. Last week, pro-Kremlin parties launched an effort to oust him. Now he is under enormous pressure from his own party to step down.

"We believe that the left wing leader has no right to chair a Duma that is pursuing a rightist, destructive policy," Zyuganov said.

Putin stayed out of the debate, telling Russian news agencies Wednesday that he considered it a matter for the Duma.

Associated Press, April 3, 2002

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