Sorry, Seleznyov, we were just pretending
Last week, everyone was talking about Duma speaker Gennady Seleznyov’s imminent dismissal but, this week, it’s all fizzling out. The thing was that the centrist factions in the Duma, usually seen as mere puppets in the Kremlin’s hands, suddenly had a spurt of independence and decided to try ousting Seleznyov. But, without clear orders from the Kremlin, they only ended up in a muddle.
The pro-Kremlin centrist majority has long cherished the dream of reducing the Communist Party influence remaining from the days when the left-wingers had the majority in the Duma. Attempts to remove Nikolai Troshin, the Communist-appointed head of the Duma apparatus, showed that this wasn’t possible without the approval of Communist Party member Seleznyov.
Having already developed a taste for power in the Duma, the centrist factions set out to trim Seleznyov’s own powers a bit. But right wing SPS (Union of Right Forces) then swayed the balance in favor of the more radical step of asking the procedures committee to examine the procedure for removing the speaker. It was obvious to all that this was to be the first step in giving Seleznyov the boot.
The Kremlin kept silent all the while. The centrists by now were busy discussing candidates to replace Seleznyov. Head of the Budget Committee Alexander Zhukov, a fairly neutral, highly professional and – which is also important – sane politician, was seen as the favorite.
No one ever expects any serious change in the Duma these days without orders from above, but cause for concern grew as the Kremlin still had no reaction, and it was becoming more clear that the centrist and right-wing factions could indeed remove Seleznyov on their own. The Communists started bargaining, suggesting they would give up Troshin in exchange for having Seleznyov left alone. These proposals fell on deaf ears, however.
But the centrists’ euphoria didn’t last long. Presidential Representative in the Duma Alexander Kotenkov finally announced it wasn’t expedient to remove Seleznyov, as it would only unnecessarily disrupt Duma’s work.
This was all it took to restore Seleznyov’s confidence and make the centrists backtrack, saying they hadn’t had Seleznyov’s removal in mind, and that, in any case, the proposal had come originally from Agrarian Party member Nikolai Kharitonov. Kharitonov, who is ideologically close to the Communists, had in fact been trying to defend him when he raised the suggestion that the deputies hold a vote of confidence in Seleznyov. But instead of boosting the speaker’s position, Kharitonov’s exclamation could yet have fateful consequences for Seleznyov.
Where Kokh goes, scandal follows
The epithet "notorious" is perfectly suited to Alfred Kokh. Kokh was a central figure in the so-called "writers’ affair," one of the first major corruption scandals in Russia. He then found himself at the center of the political scandal surrounding the takeover of NTV last year. And now he’s in the middle of a new round of dirty business – this time over his bid to become a senator.
Under the changes introduced by President Vladimir Putin, a region’s legislative assembly or governor can ask virtually any Russian citizen to represent their region in the Federation Council upper house of parliament.
Kokh’s latest scandal began a month ago when he decided to become senator for Leningrad Oblast. He turned up at the local Duma just 30 minutes before the vote, and many present thought he’d come from Moscow to support the candidate seen as the favorite for the job. But a group of 17 deputies suddenly proposed electing Kokh as their senator. The tactic paid off – a majority of the regional deputies gave him their votes, figuring that Kokh must have Putin’s backing (Kokh himself hinted as much) and that such a well-known person would surely have plenty of good contacts he could put to use for the region.
But a week later, with the Federation Council due to officially accept Kokh into its ranks, the authorities, in particular Viktor Cherkesov, the presidential representative in the North-West Federal District, realized that Kokh had no blessing from Moscow at all. Undoing what has already been done isn’t so simple, however. It was one thing when Buryat legislators tried to nominate former Prosecutor General Yury Skuratov as their senator and a hint from Moscow was enough to make them backtrack. This time, the Federation Council only got a pretext for stopping the process when someone named Oleg Petrov, supposedly a former Interior Ministry employee, lodged a protest against Kokh’s becoming a senator in a court in Vyborg.
The court case looks set to drag on, however. Both sides have plenty of mud to fling. Allegations have already emerged that Kokh gave Leningrad Oblast deputies $2,000 each to vote for him and that he gave false information about his financial situation. Kokh’s supporters, meanwhile, say the regional deputies are being pressured into changing their decision without reasonable grounds. The upshot is that the court has postponed hearings for a month, the scandal looks set to last, and Kokh has gained in notoriety.
(Ekaterina Larina is The Russia Journal’s assistant editor.
E-mail Katya at firstname.lastname@example.org.)