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Yeltsin nominee confirmed as prime minister

Yeltsin and Kiriyenko
Yeltsin, right, congratulates Kiriyenko on his confirmation as prime minister  

New Cabinet to be formed soon

April 24, 1998
Web posted at: 12:56 p.m. EDT (1656 GMT)

In this story:

MOSCOW (CNN) -- In a victory for Boris Yeltsin over his political opponents, parliament on Friday gave in to the will of the Russian president and approved his little-known choice for prime minister. By confirming Sergei Kiriyenko after rejecting him in two previous votes, parliament ended a month-long standoff that threatened to worsen Russia's political instability.

Kiriyenko's speech to the Duma after his election
icon 2 min. 45 sec. VXtreme video
Yeltsin's speech to the nation after Kiriyenko's election
icon 6 min. VXtreme video

Yeltsin and Kiriyenko will now form a new Cabinet and try to re-energize stalled economic reforms.

"I hope that by the end of next week we will complete the formation of most of the government," Yeltsin said in a television address after the vote.

Many members of the 450-seat Duma -- the lower house of the Russian parliament -- abstained from voting in secret balloting that followed several hours of debate.

Debate begins in the Duma  

Kiriyenko received 251 votes, while 25 members of parliament voted against him. To win approval he needed 226 votes, a simple majority. Just 315 members of parliament took the paper ballots and, of those, only 276 actually cast a vote.

Had the 35-year-old ex-banker lost the vote, Yeltsin would have been forced to disband parliament and call a new round of parliamentary elections. Those steps would have heightened Russia's political turmoil at a time when the country needs to deal with pressing economic and social woes.

Kiriyenko, who works out at home with boxing gloves and a punching bag, is now next in line for the presidency after Yeltsin, who, at 67, has a history of illness and heart problems.

Kiriyenko boxes
Kiriyenko stays fit by punching a bag  

Kiriyenko: Confirmation took 'great courage'

Kiriyenko praised members of parliament for having "great courage" in confirming him. "Today's vote clearly shows that none of us needs great upheavals, and we all need a great Russia," he added.

Yeltsin watched the debate -- broadcast live on Russian television -- from his Kremlin office, his spokesman said. Later, the president signed a decree formally appointing Kiriyenko as Russia's new prime minister. "It's your and our common victory," Yeltsin told him.

Yeltsin, who last month fired the previous Russian government led by Viktor Chernomyrdin, had refused to nominate anyone other than Kiriyenko to replace him.

Breaking ranks?

Legislators had rejected Kiriyenko in two open votes over the past two weeks but the Duma decided Friday's vote would be held by a secret ballot.

The move greatly improved Kiriyenko's chances, allowing Communists and other Yeltsin opponents to break ranks and quietly vote in favor of Kiriyenko, possibly because they feared losing their seats in new elections.

The Duma is dominated by the Communist party, which opposes Yeltsin's economic reforms as too extreme. The liberal Yabloko party, on the other hand, believes the president's policies don't go far enough.

A gruff Gennady Zyuganov, the Communist Party leader, could not hide his displeasure after Friday's vote. "I don't see any grounds for joy," Zyuganov snapped. "The government's course should be revised."

In an angry speech before the vote, Zyuganov called on Yeltsin to withdraw Kiriyenko's nomination.  

Before the debate started, Zyuganov had told reporters that "We are not afraid of new elections. We are a serious party and we will not change our decision to vote against Kiriyenko."

Nevertheless, some Communists took ballot slips despite a party pledge not to participate in the secret parliamentary vote, senior Communist officials said. "There will be an investigation after the vote," a party official said.

It was not clear whether any of the Communists who picked up the pink ballot slips actually voted. The Yabloko party boycotted the ballot.

What's next?

Before Friday's vote, Kiriyenko told the Duma there was no time to lose in tackling the country's woes. "The enormous number of problems in the economy makes us all share responsibility for the fate of Russia. Let us respond to this challenge by deeds and not by words. We have no time to waste," he said.

As acting prime minister for the past month, Kiriyenko has led a government that handled routine matters, but did not make major policy decisions.

Yeltsin and Kiriyenko face a host of problems needing immediate attention, including the payment of overdue back wages, the privatization of large state enterprises, and a new tax code.

Despite some signs of modest growth in the nation's economy in recent months, Kiriyenko has no illusions about the depth of the country's problems.

"For the past six months, the government spoke of economic growth but not a single citizen of the country has felt it," he said recently.

Kiriyenko's strength is his business background. Before being brought into the government as a deputy energy minister in 1997, he ran a private bank and then an oil company in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia's third largest city.

He intends to follow the general outline of Yeltsin's current policies, but has yet to detail his own economic plans.

Moscow Bureau Chief Jill Dougherty, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.


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