Russian President Boris Yeltsin has rammed through parliament his choice for prime minister. But observers here agree his victory over the recalcitrant Communist opposition was Pyrrhic.
The 251 to 25 vote in the Duma (the 450-seat lower house of parliament) Friday to accept young and inexperienced Sergei Kiriyenko as premier was less an endorsement of his abilities than a means to avoid President Yeltsin's threat to dissolve the house and call new elections.
The Communist-dominated opposition saved face by saying that it wanted to prevent the turmoil of such a scenario. But a confrontation now looms between an embittered Duma and Yeltsin and Mr. Kiriyenko over economic reforms that are desperately needed to improve the economy, analysts say.
"Kiriyenko's problems are only just beginning," says Yuri Krasnov, who heads the analysts' department at the Duma. "He is not a wanted child. He and Yeltsin will find it extremely difficult from now on to implement even the best plans."
Yeltsin manufactured the crisis himself a month ago by sacking his entire Cabinet. He threw out longtime Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and named as his replacement Kiriyenko, an unassuming technocrat who had less than a year in government as deputy and then No. 1 in the Energy Ministry.
The Duma, led by the Communists, rejected Kiriyenko's nomination as premier in two previous votes. A number of Communist deputies broke ranks with leader Gennady Zyuganov in Friday's secret ballot after Yeltsin threatened to invoke his constitutional power to dismiss the Duma if they voted "no" a third time.
YELTSIN has wide powers to make decisions on his own, but the Duma can hold up draft laws and proposed free-market reforms, which the Communists bitterly oppose on the grounds that they do not help average Russians. Any blame for unpopular policies will now rest solely with the Kiriyenko Cabinet. He may prove too lacking in political savvy to face the fights ahead - or even stay in Yeltsin's favor.
Analysts forecast the end of the tacit government-Duma cooperation over the past year, which saw the recent adoption of Yeltsin's controversial budget. They say the rebellion may have already begun last week when the Duma overrode Yeltsin's veto of a draft land-reform bill.
Kiriyenko may have problems pushing through unpopular fiscal reforms to meet conditions set by the International Monetary Fund for a $700 million in aid. He also must make budget cuts of $6 billion, which surely will cost jobs, and pass a new tax code.
"Friday's vote for Kiriyenko prepares the ground for future problems," says political analyst Viktor Vereschagin of the Expert Institute, an independent social-sciences foundation in Moscow. "The reform process will be stalled."
Kiriyenko is due to announce his new Cabinet this week. Observers are closely watching to see whether any concessions to the opposition will be made.
Last week Russian newspapers were filled with reports about an emerging alliance between powerful businessmen and Communist deputies. The newspapers asserted that these unlikely bedfellows tried to bargain with Yeltsin to sack Kiriyenko's mentor, First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, who is one the architects of the economic reforms.
They also wanted to block the appointment of Anatoly Chubais as head of the electricity monopoly Unified Energy Systems. Mr. Chubais is a former government reformer unpopular with both businessmen and Communists.
"If the tactical union of the financial circles with the left is transformed into a strategic one, then in several months we can expect the beginning of broad campaigns making the image of the Communists less 'red,' " one article said.
Meanwhile, a political stalemate does not help anyone, pointed out more than one Russian weary of the politicking and Yeltsin's unpredictable methods.
"They are just playing games while we struggle to get by," says one woman who has given up her poor-paying job as an economist to clean houses instead.