Kiriyenko Vote Stalled

MOSCOW (Reuters)–Russia’s opposition-dominated parliament pushed its row with Boris Yeltsin to the limit on Friday–rejecting his chosen prime minister for the second time and setting the stage for a decisive showdown next week.

After four hours of debate and procedural wrangling–the State Duma lower house voted again to reject the candidacy of Sergei Kiriyenko–the Russian president’s 35-year-old nominee.

But Duma speaker Gennady Seleznyov later said he thought deputies would approve Kiriyenko during the final vote next week rather than face dissolution as demanded by the constitution after three "no" votes against a prime ministerial candidate.

Yeltsin–due to fly to Japan later on Friday–immediately renominated Kiriyenko after the vote. The young technocrat said he would not haggle with deputies to win their approval.

"They are just trying to bring me to heel again,” he told reporters. “They may not vote for me. That’s fine by me. But I can’t make radical changes.”

World and Russian financial markets reacted negatively to the prolonged uncertainty.

On Friday–deputies agreed to use an open–instead of a secret–ballot and immediately moved to the vote on Kiriyenko–whom they had already rejected in a first hearing last week.

Not all 450 deputies were present but 271 voted against Kiriyenko and 115 for. There were 11 abstentions.

"I’m relaxed about it,” Kiriyenko said after gathering his papers with a wry smile and leaving the theater-style box where he had sat alone to witness the vote. The Kremlin said Yeltsin had watched events closely from his Gorky-9 residence outside Moscow and was similarly unfazed. An acting minister–Yevgeny Yasin–said in Washington he expected Kiriyenko would win through at the third attempt next week.

Seleznyov–a Communist–echoed the sentiment: "By voting against Kiriyenko the Duma would be sentencing itself to dissolution…Presidential rule by decree would begin and we have no guarantee when the next election would be."

Russian shares–the rouble and dollar-denominated debt lost some ground. Palladium and platinum rose strongly on fears of export delays from Russia–a major producer of both metals.

"All you can say is it’s disappointing for the market,” said Dan Wilson–head of research at Creditanstalt bank.

Kiriyenko said the government crisis was undoubtedly having a negative impact on the economy but there was still growth.

"It’s a question of brinkmanship now–of who has the steelier nerves,” said Julia Dawson of ING Barings investment bank in London.

The president wasted no time in making clear he would not cave in–resubmitting Kiriyenko’s name for the decisive vote–which must be held by next Friday–April 24 – nearly five weeks after he sacked the old government for going soft on reforms.

The open Duma vote on Friday meant deputies were less inclined to ignore party discipline. This procedure helps explain why fewer deputies voted for Kiriyenko than at the first hearing–when 143 backed him in an anonymous electronic ballot.

The voting method next week will be crucial. Kiriyenko needs at least 226 of the 450 deputies to back him. Seleznyov said he expected a secret vote next week–boosting Kiriyenko’s chances.

"We expect that the third round will provide the result necessary for the whole country,” Kremlin spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky told Russian news agencies.

The cost and uncertainty of a new election more than a year ahead of schedule makes it undesirable for Yeltsin. The risk of losing a parliamentary seat and the perks that go with it makes it just as unwelcome for many deputies.

Earlier on Friday–Kiriyenko sought to convince the Duma he was already making a difference as acting premier–but opposition party chiefs lined up to say they would not back him.

Outside the chamber–Communist supporters chanted anti-Kiriyenko slogans and urged deputies not to vote for him.

Inside–Communist Party chief Gennady Zyuganov–ultra-nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky and liberal Grigory Yavlinsky needed little encouragement. They said their groups were unmoved by Kiriyenko’s address and would not support him.

Yeltsin said in a radio address the recent removal of the government nonetheless did not threaten Russia’s stability and he would leave for a weekend trip to Japan for talks with Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto despite the crisis.

Kiriyenko said he would not formally stand in for Yeltsin while he was away but had been given tasks to carry out.

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