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By Oksana Yablokova Staff Writer

Reds Lose Key Posts in Duma Shake-Up

The Moscow Times, April 4, 2002

The State Duma voted Wednesday to reshuffle the chairmen of nearly a third of its committees, stripping the Communists of eight top posts and concentrating even greater power in the hands of centrist and liberal factions supportive of Kremlin policies.

Infuriated by the decision, the Communists immediately stepped down from the two minor committees they had been allowed to retain and announced that they would form a shadow Cabinet to develop alternative state policies. "The left-wing opposition does not plan to boycott the parliament, but refuses to accept the crumbs of leadership ... brushed from the table by the Kremlin's lackey," Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov told reporters. "The left wing is going into tough opposition against the policies of the aggressively obedient majority in the State Duma and is forming a shadow government."

The Communists also called on their comrade, Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznyov, to relinquish his post in protest. But Seleznyov -- whom many within his party consider a traitor for being too middle-of-the-road -- floundered, saying he would carefully weigh his options.

As the Duma's largest faction, the Communists had held 10 chairman posts. But under Wednesday's resolution, proposed by the Kremlin-backed Unity faction and approved by a vote of 251-136, Zyuganov's group lost control of seven major committees, as well as the Duma's mandate commission, which has committee status.

After the vote, Communist deputies Nikolai Gubenko and Viktor Zorkaltsev stepped down, respectively, as head of the committee on culture and tourism and head of the committee on public organizations and religious groups -- the two minor posts their faction had been allowed to keep.

In a show of solidarity, the Communists' allies from the Agro-Industrial Group rejected two chairmanships they had been offered -- the committees on nationalities and on women's, family and youth affairs.

The Communists lost control of the committee on state-building, which went to the Fatherland-All Russia faction, or OVR, as did the committee on regional policy and the committee on agrarian issues, which was controlled by the Agro-Industrial Group. As a result, OVR came out the big winner with five committee chairs instead of its earlier two.

The Union of Right Forces, or SPS, won control of two major committees -- on economic policy and enterpreneurship and on labor and social policy -- boosting its total from one to three.

Russia's Regions received control of the committee on industry, construction and advanced technologies, its only chairmanship, and the liberal opposition Yabloko faction also won its first committee, on education and science.

Supporters of the reshuffle said the Duma's work would now become more effective because the Communists would no longer be able to stall bills that clash with their populist agenda.

"The changes being implemented by President Vladimir Putin in the interests of the country's people are being sabotaged by certain political forces led by the Communist Party," said a statement issued by the United Russia party, which includes Unity and OVR.

Unity Deputy Oleg Kovalyov, who heads the Duma's procedures committee, said that the next personnel shake-up would affect the chamber's sprawling administrative structure, or apparat, and could begin as early as Thursday.

The Kremlin has called the repartitioning an internal Duma affair. Slamming Putin for his unwillingness to negotiate, Zyuganov even found some kind words to say about Putin's predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, one of the Communists' most loathed enemies.

"Even when tipsy, Yeltsin had the courage to gather the leaders of different factions in critical moments and look for a solution together, rather than starting a new war," Zyuganov said in televised remarks. "[But Putin] keeps silent in his traditional manner."

Andrei Zakharov, vice president of the Foundation for the Development of Parliamentarianism in Russia, said the redistribution of power in the Duma amounted to a reversal of the January 2000 deal between the Communists and Unity, the chamber's second largest faction. Under that agreement, the Communists got the speaker's post and 10 of the Duma's 29 committees, while Unity got seven top committee jobs. No procedure for distributing the posts is spelled out in the Duma's regulations. The 2000 deal provoked fierce protests from the four minority factions, who boycotted Duma sessions for almost two weeks, but returned in the end having won no concessions.

"The Communists have been defeated with the same weapon they used in 2000," Zakharov said, adding that the redistribution of power will have a negative effect on the general disposition of political forces in Russia.

"The situation is sad. It signals a real weakening of the parliament, which is already weak and will retain its secondary status," Zakharov said.

He also said the change is unlikely either to paralyze the Duma's work or to significantly ease the passage of Kremlin-backed bills, since the Communists had already abandoned some of their principles. "The Communists, like no other political party, have demonstrated their ability to compromise," he said.

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The Moscow Times, April 4, 2002

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