Kremlin finally gets a sympathetic Parliament

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The Independent Online
FOR THE first time since Russia embarked on free market reforms nine years ago, the Kremlin-appointed government will have a sympathetic if not wholly loyal parliament instead of a State Duma bent on constant confrontation with the President.

Hailing the results of Sunday's election to the lower house, an aide of Boris Yeltsin, Igor Shabdurasulov, spoke yesterday of a "peaceful revolution" and a "colossal breakthrough". It was a victory for Mr Yeltsin, although he will only be able to enjoy the fruits of it for the next six months, as he is due to retire in June 2000.

The Communist Party leader, Gennady Zyuganov, said the Kremlin had exerted "unfair pressure" on opposition parties and the electorate. He must have been disappointed that the Communists, while polling the highest number of votes and looking bound to become the biggest single party in the new Duma, would no longer dominate the assembly.

The new Unity or "Bear" Party, created three months ago to support the Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, did almost as well, riding the wave of patriotism set off by the war in Chechnya. And it would surely find enough allies among the other four parties elected to curb the obstructive power of the Communists, which has been one reason for the failure of Russia's reforms so far.

With more than 80 per cent of ballot papers counted, preliminary results showed that the Communists had won 25 per cent, compared with 24 per cent for "Bear". Fatherland-All Russia (FAR), the centre-left opposition bloc of the former premier Yevgeny Primakov and the Moscow Mayor, Yuri Luzhkov, was third with 12 per cent. Then came the Union of Rightist Forces (URF), which backs Mr Putin, with 9 per cent and liberal Yabloko and Vladimir Zhirinovsky's nationalist bloc with 6 per cent each.

Those were the results of voting for the 26 parties on offer. However, half of the places in the 450-seat Duma are allocated according to races among individuals in the constituencies. The election supervisor, Alexander Veshnyakov, predicted that when those results were taken into account, the Communists would gain 43 MPs friendly to them, "Bear" would have 10, FAR 29, URF five and Yabloko five. The rest of the constituency MPs would be sitting as independents.

Thus, the parliamentary pie would be carved in such a way that the Communists would have 150 to 160 seats, "Bear" 120 to 130, FAR 65 to 70, URF about 30, Yabloko 25 and Mr Zhirinovsky's nationalists 18. Already yesterday, the parties were already discussing possible alliances.

"Bear" and URF, led by the young former premier Sergei Kirienko, can be expected to work together, at least until the first splits appear. Mr Zhirinovsky, while regularly shocking the world with his outrageous behaviour, has shown that, in practice, he is a reliable Kremlin man.

The other parties in parliament can now be expected to try to woo FAR and Yabloko. The former is ideologically close to the Communists while the latter shares many of the values of the right. But Yabloko's leader, Grigory Yavlinsky, a liberal economist, ruled out a coalition with URF, while Mr Primakov, enigmatic as ever, said he was ready to cooperate with all "healthy and reasonable forces".

FAR was buoyed by Mr Luzhkov's re-election as mayor, which helped it to gain vital votes in the capital.