Duma rejects Yeltsin premier Lawmakers lash out at Chernomyrdin

renomination follows

September 01, 1998|By Kathy Lally | Kathy Lally,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

MOSCOW SUN STAFF WRITER WILL ENGLUND CONTRIBUTED TO THIS ARTICLE. — MOSCOW -- One furious Duma leader after another stood up yesterday, angrily blamed Viktor S. Chernomyrdin for the corruption and economic negligence of the past six years, then led the rank and file in an overwhelming vote against his nomination as prime minister.

Every Communist voted against him. So did every member of the liberal Yabloko faction. Even one member of Chernomyrdin's party opposed him. And after it was over, President Boris N. Yeltsin said he would nominate Chernomyrdin again.

As President Clinton arrives this morning for a summit with the Russian leadership, he will find a badly damaged Yeltsin, an enraged Duma, an acting prime minister and a dangerously unsettled Russia.

"You will fail and bring the country to ruin," Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov told Chernomyrdin as all 124 Communists voted against him.

"Any child would say the biggest problem of the Russian government is stealing," said Grigory Yavlinsky, leader of the Yabloko faction, whose 41 members voted against Chernomyrdin returning as prime minister. "But Chernomyrdin's statement didn't reflect an understanding of any of this. Does he suppose the people of this big country are crazy?"

Russia can ill afford the battle that the Duma and Yeltsin threaten to engage.

The country has defaulted on its debts; it has spent nearly all its hard currency in a futile attempt to support the ruble, which was down to 9.3 to the dollar yesterday from 7.9; serious inflation threatens; the ability to borrow abroad has been largely lost. And now Russia is well into a serious political crisis.

"We are losing Russia every minute," said Oleg Morozov, a deputy from the Russia's Regions faction. "Either we reach an agreement now or tomorrow, or there will be nothing to agree on. We're losing time."

Yeltsin can submit the same candidate three times, but after a third negative vote, he has the constitutional right to dissolve the Duma and seek new elections. That would throw the nation into a period of greater turmoil and uncertainty, with the president ruling by decree and a Duma-full of candidates roaming the country inveighing against him.

"If he repeats his request," Zyuganov said, "it means he doesn't understand what's going on in this country."

Yeltsin did just that, nominating Chernomyrdin for the second time despite the hostility, which could be seen, heard and felt within the Duma's chambers and in the hallways and offices throughout the building.

Chernomyrdin had won only 94 "yes" votes; 251 deputies voted against him, no one abstained and 99 did not vote at all.

Holding out hope

Deputies held out the hope that a compromise could be reached -- even though a weekend of intense negotiations led to one proposed agreement that promptly fell apart. Yeltsin may be bluffing, trying to get the best deal he can, several deputies said.

Certainly, Duma factions are maneuvering to seize advantage in the current mess. Vladimir Zhirinovsky, head of the Liberal Democratic Party and fond of appearing outrageous in public, insists on being deputy prime minister. The Communists want Yeltsin's resignation and five powerful Cabinet posts.

Others would accept Chernomyrdin only if Yeltsin cedes some of his powers and promises not to dissolve the Duma before its term expires next year.

Zyuganov struck an alarmist tone.

"I am appealing to all people, especially to those in uniform," he said in the Duma yesterday. "The last island of little legality, which still exists in the country, is here in the Duma and the Federation Council. If it is finished and destroyed, then chaos and gangs will prevail."

But faction leaders said they will negotiate today over a proposal for a new candidate, and three have been mentioned: Yuri Luzhkov, Moscow's outspoken mayor; Yegor Stroyev, speaker of parliament's upper chamber; and Yuri Maslyukov, a Communist who was once head of the Soviet planning agency.

The Duma leaders agree on one thing: Russia desperately needs strong leadership and a sure economic hand to begin to steer it out of an ever-deteriorating financial situation. They differ on who that person might be.

But a majority declared yesterday that Chernomyrdin is not the one.

"The country is humiliated and ruined," said Nikolai Ryzhkov of the 31-member People's Power faction. "The national property has been stolen. Our faction has made a unanimous decision. We will not support Chernomyrdin."

Other deputies laughed at Chernomyrdin, ridiculing him for explaining a lackluster performance a few years ago by saying, "We wanted something better, but it turned out as it always does."

Chernomyrdin, 60, was prime minister for five years until Yeltsin, apparently in a fit of pique, dismissed him in March. The president replaced Chernomyrdin with the youthful and untested Sergei V. Kiriyenko. Kiriyenko, 36, was accepted on his third nomination and only after a stronger Yeltsin threatened to dissolve the Duma.

Lack of public trust

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