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  •   Parliament Rejects Kiriyenko

    By Daniel Williams
    Washington Post Foreign Service
    Saturday, April 11, 1998; Page A09

    MOSCOW, April 10—In a predictable first-round vote, a hostile Russian parliament today rejected President Boris Yeltsin's choice for prime minister. Ever defiant, Yeltsin renominated the candidate, Sergei Kiriyenko, a half-hour later.

    The rejection came as no surprise because Communist, agrarian, nationalist and other opposition deputies who dominate the chamber are still trying to win cabinet seats and money from the government for their votes.

    Yeltsin's action was also anticipated. "I have no other candidate," he said in a morning radio speech after the vote.

    By law, the next vote must take place within a week. Yeltsin can put forth a nominee for confirmation three times. If the legislature rejects the candidate, Yeltsin can call for new parliamentary elections. Most observers expect Kiriyenko's eventual confirmation.

    The main drama of the day was not the outcome -- 186 votes against Kiriyenko, 143 for him -- but the designated prime minister's downbeat assessment of the Russian economy. In a speech to the State Duma, as the lower house is called, Kiriyenko said economic growth "has stopped," foreign investment has dropped sharply and exports have declined.

    "In the last six months, the authorities have been speaking about economic growth, but not a single citizen has felt the difference," Kiriyenko, 35, said. A quarter of all Russians are living in poverty, he said, and income is shrinking.

    "We have yet to experience all the gravity of the situation," Kiriyenko said. "We will feel it in the second half of the year."

    The assessment reversed weeks of official statements which said the economy had weathered the damage caused by the Asian financial crisis and the decline in global prices for Russia's main exports: oil, gas and metals.

    Economic growth is Yeltsin's top political priority, and may be vital to the survival of a reform government. Regular parliamentary elections are scheduled for 1999 and the presidential vote for 2000.

    Kiriyenko said some of the economic wounds were inflicted by former prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and his cabinet, all of whom were abruptly dismissed by Yeltsin last month. The government is behind in paying state wages, has fallen deeper into debt to meet overspending and has collected taxes inefficiently.

    Kiriyenko criticized the former government's practice of selling state companies to make up for budget shortfalls. "When we sell property, we sell the unreplenishable capital of the country," he said. "If money received from the sale . . . is spent on current costs, we are eating up the country."

    Kiriyenko called for the creation of a "strong state," one that pays wages on time, collects taxes and customs duties, attacks crime, regulates the economy and keeps control of energy resources and power-producing companies.

    "I do not agree with the claims that in a market economy there is no place for state influence. . . . In a transition period, demand for external influence only increases. The national economy is clearly in such a period," he said.

    Kiriyenko's remarks about a strong state attracted a favorable response from Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov. "There are some interesting things," he said. But he predicted Kiriyenko would be unable to reform the government and called Yeltsin a "petty tyrant" for resubmitting his nomination.

    Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the nationalist leader, heaped scorn on Kiriyenko for his youth. "You can't turn a first-grader into an academician, or give a sergeant the rank of a field marshal," he said.

    However, defectors from both camps apparently voted for Kiriyenko. Without some Communist and nationalist support, Kiriyenko would have received fewer than 100 votes, observers said. The centrist Yabloko bloc abstained.

    Kiriyenko said he will not bargain over cabinet posts with the Duma but will choose ministers by their "professional abilities."

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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