Choice of Russian Duma Speaker Puts Parliament Factions to Test

Can they quell past bickering, find a mutually agreeable candidate?

BEHIND closed doors, leaders of Russia's four biggest parliamentary factions are negotiating to nominate a speaker for the lower house of the country's first democratically elected parliament before it opens in less than two weeks.

The pro-reform Russia's Choice, the conservative Agrarian Party, Vladimir Zhirinovsky's ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party, and the Communist Party hope to pick a mutually agreeable candidate in the next few days, says Ivan Rybkin, a deputy from the Agrarian Party, who many say is the most likely choice.

The ability of these politically varied factions to cooperate on so crucial a matter as the choice of a parliamentary speaker may at least temporarily quell fears that the new bicameral Federal Assembly will regress to the same name-calling and bickering that characterized the last days of the old Supreme Soviet legislature.

``Our preparatory work is without doubt being conducted very constructively,'' says Mr. Rybkin, who was a member of the parliamentary faction Communists of Russia in the Soviet parliament. ``If this trend is extended to the actual work of the parliament, we have nothing better to wish for.'' Personality clash

For most of 1993, Russian politics appeared to be a personal battle between President Boris Yeltsin and his arch rival, parliamentary speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov. Such a clash of wills would be inconceivable in the new parliament because of its relative weakness.

President Yeltsin wants to avoid creating another all-powerful Khasbulatov, who now is in jail along with former Vice President Alexander Rutskoi for leading the bloody armed revolt against the Russian president last October.

Mr. Khasbulatov was able to wield power over the former Soviet parliament because the post of speaker gave him considerable control over all parliamentary committees. His influence extended to deciding which deputies should go on foreign trips to disbanding committees he deemed worthless.

But Yeltsin's new constitution has greatly curbed the authority of the parliamentary speaker, who will be chosen by secret ballot by the 444 elected deputies in the State Duma, or parliament's lower house, soon after its first session officially opens Jan. 11.

The new parliament will have ``a weak chairman of the State Duma ... that limits his authority on one hand, and politically strong factions and professionally strong parliamentary committees on the other,'' wrote Mikhail Mityukov, who is overseeing preparations for the first session, in the daily Izvestia.

Rybkin, who declined to comment on his chances of winning the vote, has been endorsed by all four factions except the pro-reform Russia's Choice, the Nezavisimaya Gazeta said yesterday. If he gains the endorsement of all four, that will translate into support from about 340 of the total deputies, it said.

Although Russia's Choice previously insisted on a candidate from one of the remaining four smaller factions, it recently put forth its own candidate, human rights activist Sergei Kovalyov.

The list of candidates also includes reformists Sergei Shakhrai, chairman of the Party of Russian Unity and Accord, Grigory Yavlinsky, a top economist who is a leader of the Yabloko bloc, and Vladimir Lukin, another Yabloko leader who is Moscow's ambassador to Washington. Where to put them

More conservative candidates include the Agrarian Party's Vladimir Isakov, nationalist Sergei Baburin, one of the leaders of the October revolt who won on an independent ballot in his Siberian hometown of Omsk, and Women of Russia faction head Alevtina Fedulova.

Once the speaker is nominated, it still remains to be seen where he or she will work.

The joint session of the Federal Assembly will open in the Kremlin, after which the two chambers are scheduled to meet separately: The Federation Council, the parliament's less powerful upper house, in the Russian Press House, and the State Duma in a shabby high-rise office building in central Moscow.

Yeltsin has insisted that the parliament building, or White House, be used to house government offices. During the October revolt, Yeltsin ordered Army units to bombard the marble structure, and Turkish workers have been working around-the-clock to repair it ever since.

Members of all eight electoral blocs have protested Yeltsin's decision, and on Wednesday they lodged an official protest asking that the White House be returned to the parliament and suggesting that other premises be found to house the parliament.

One of the coordinators of the protest was Anatoly Lukyanov, a newly elected deputy from the Communist Party who is the former Soviet parliament chairman. Mr. Lukyanov, currently on trial for his role as one of the 12 men who led the abortive 1991 coup that led to the Soviet collapse, said Wednesday he expected immunity from prosecution following his election to the parliament.

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