Putin ally heads Russian parliament despite rallies
Russia's lower house of parliament yesterday elected a close ally of Vladimir Putin as its new speaker, in defiance of mass protests sparked by opposition claims it was elected in rigged polls.
The State Duma voted in the candidate of Putin's ruling party, the former Kremlin chief of staff Sergei Naryshkin, as its president in its first session of the new parliament.
However after United Russia won less than half the vote in December 4 parliamentary elections and lost 77 seats, while still retaining its majority, the Duma is expected to be somewhat less pliant than in previous years, when it served as a mere rubber stamp for the Kremlin.
The mild-mannered Naryshkin, who like Putin hails from Saint Petersburg, pledged the Duma would operate through consensus as he faced a barrage of questions from an opposition emboldened by its electoral success.
"I would like to stress: a parliamentary majority is by no means a monopoly," Naryshkin said. "I am in favour of parliamentary debate."
His predecessor, the dour-faced United Russia chairman Boris Gryzlov, who quit the post earlier this month following the mass rallies, was once notoriously quoted as saying that "the Duma is not a place for discussion."
A total of 238 parliament members supported Naryshkin's candidacy in the Duma, where United Russia has 238 out of 450 seats. Eighty-eight voted against him.
Claims of vote fraud in the polls brought tens of thousands out into the streets across Russia earlier this month in the largest show of public anger since the turbulent 1990s.