3rd Vote Confirms Kiriyenko as New Russian Premier
By David Hoffman
The vote was a major victory for Yeltsin, who refused to back down in a showdown with the 450-member State Duma, dominated by Communists and nationalists. In a secret ballot, after being defeated twice earlier this month, Kiriyenko received 251 votes, with 25 against. He needed 226 to be confirmed.
Kiriyenko is the third Russian prime minister to serve under Yeltsin since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Should Yeltsin, 67, die or become incapacitated in office, Kiriyenko would become acting president for three months until new elections could be held.
Yeltsin said again today that he had dismissed the former government under prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin because reform efforts had stalled. The Kiriyenko victory could give fresh impetus to revitalizing the Russian economy, including overhauling the tax system and restarting economic growth after years of depression. Kiriyenko said he will propose a new cabinet next week, and much will depend on whom he selects for key posts.
In recent appearances, Kiriyenko, a former energy minister and banker, has come across as a pragmatist and technocrat, as Yeltsin said when he appointed him a month ago. Kiriyenko has not talked about grand plans for reform, but rather specific steps to resolve Russia's lingering economic troubles, including a massive web of debts and wage arrears.
In his speech today to the State Duma, Kiriyenko promised action on a range of stubborn issues such as financing spring planting of crops and pulling the coal industry out of its financial quagmire. He also promised to help Russian oil companies hurt by recent price declines and said he will oppose breaking up Russia's natural gas monopoly.
In a nationally televised speech, Yeltsin urged Kiriyenko to approach government like "an industrial strategy of management," designed to ignite economic growth. This is what Chernomyrdin lacked, Yeltsin said. Kiriyenko stands in stark contrast to Chernomyrdin; the new prime minister was a young businessman in the early years of Russian reform, while Chernomyrdin was Soviet natural gas minister and later head of the successor monopoly, Gazprom.
Kiriyenko served notice today he will not succumb to pressure from Russia's restless financial barons, who have jockeyed for influence since Yeltsin dismissed Chernomyrdin.
"They have not hurt me in any way," Kiriyenko said of the magnates, and he warned that the new government will show them no favor. "There are interests of the state, and they will be ensured at all cost," he declared.
The main question hanging over the lower house was whether it would survive the vote. Had the chamber voted against Kiriyenko a third time, Yeltsin would have been compelled under the 1993 Russian constitution to dissolve the Duma and call for new parliamentary elections. Many members were loath to support Yeltsin but even more unhappy about possibly losing their seats and privileges because of new elections.
Yeltsin stood firm against any concessions to parliament and refused to meet lawmakers' demands to trade cabinet portfolios to various parties in exchange for their support.
Kiriyenko's confirmation was another political setback for Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, who lost to Yeltsin in the 1996 elections. Zyuganov had insisted his troops would oppose Kiriyenko, saying his 138-member faction would not participate in a secret ballot. By withholding their votes, Zyuganov could have made it difficult for Kiriyenko to cross the threshold of 226 to win.
However, analysts said afterward that 15 to 20 Communist members broke ranks and voted for Kiriyenko. The precise number is not known because the voting was by secret paper ballot. But one faction member, speaker Gennady Seleznev, said, "It was a secret ballot, but I can open the secret and say I voted for Kiriyenko."
"I don't see any grounds for joy," snapped Zyuganov.
Another Communist member, Albert Makashov, warned that those who voted for Kiriyenko would be tracked down. "We'll trace them," he said.
Grigory Yavlinsky, head of the Yabloko group, which also opposed Kiriyenko, said that "appointing such a prime minister in the current conditions is another round of the crisis of weak government, a weak and authoritarian president, and a helpless Duma."
Yeltsin later greeted Kiriyenko warmly in his office and gave the new prime minister a framed photograph of himself.
Yeltsin had picked Kiriyenko on March 23 after firing Chernomyrdin. Then, Kiriyenko was a virtual unknown to the Moscow political elite. At the outset, he was criticized for being too young and inexperienced. However, in the last few weeks he waged a personal campaign that was praised for his steely, careful, pragmatic approach.
Kiriyenko is young, but Yegor Gaidar was only 36 when Yeltsin put him in charge of the first year of Russian market reforms in 1992. Alexander Kerensky became head of the short-lived pre-revolutionary government in 1917 at age 36.
President Clinton welcomed Kiriyenko's nomination. "This is a good news day for Russia and for the United States," he said. "We have a high opinion of [Kiriyenko]."
The Russian White House also said Kiriyenko spoke by telephone with Vice President Gore, who was co-chairman of a bilateral U.S.-Russia panel with Chernomyrdin.
Kiriyenko's family name is Ukrainian. He has said his mother is Russian, his father was a Jew, and he was born in Sokhumi, Georgia.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company