Election of speaker gives reformist camp a boost

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The Independent Online
RUSSIA'S new parliament again slipped into acrimonious anarchy yesterday when Vladimir Zhirinovsky mounted the podium to threaten a liberal minister with jail and tell legislators they should be in a mental hospital.

The outburst came as a furious and fist-banging Mr Zhirinovsky withdrew his candidature for speaker of the Duma, the lower house. But Mr Yeltsin will draw no comfort from the two men left as candidates. A vote yesterday narrowed the field to Yuri Vlasov, an Olympic weight-lifting gold medalist turned fervid nationalist, and Ivan Ryabkin, a Communist put forward by the Agrarian Party.

The mood is more sedate in the upper house, which though not as pro-reform as Mr Yeltsin would have liked, did yesterday elect a close Kremlin ally as speaker. Vladimir Shumeiko defeated a strong challenge by a far-right nationalist, Pyotr Romanov.

Under a constitution tailor-made for Mr Yeltsin and narrowly approved in a referendum, the upper chamber, the Federation Council, reviews declarations of martial law, emergency rule and elections by the President. It can also impeach. Because of these powers, Mr Yeltsin badly needed an ally at the helm.

But far more important, and more raucous, is the Duma, where two days of debate on procedural issues such as whether to break for lunch and a day-long closed-door conclave have yielded only wild accusations and endless wrangling.

'Shut up. Everyone out of the hall. Every candidate must be sent to a psychiatric hospital,' Mr Zhirinovsky shouted yesterday from a podium decorated with a gold double-headed eagle, replacement for the hammer and sickle. 'In two years our special services will know who is ill and with what. I would have made a perfect speaker, an example not only for the country but for the whole world . . . I went to Europe and my two-day stay there turned Europe and the whole world upside down.'

His European trip certainly left an impression. He was thrown out of Bulgaria for insulting the president and barred from Germany.

When Anatoly Chubais, the Privatisation Minister, gestured to his watch yesterday during Mr Zhirinovsky's tirade, he was told: 'Mr Chubais, you will be doing that in a prison cell to call for lunch.'

Such tantrums sit uneasily with the rather more sober habits of the grey Soviet veterans who have allied themselves with the volatile far right. 'I've had enough,' said Anatoly Lukyanov, speaker in Mikhail Gorbachev's parliament, alleged coup-plotter and newly-elected MP. He worries that the current parliament might end up like the last one.

Sergei Shakrai, an ambitious young reformer who helped to split the reformist vote by setting up his own party, proposed a solution: 'We could finance ourselves by selling tickets to Vladimir Volvovich (Zhirinovsky)'.