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Russian Duma Gets Its Revenge

July 4, 2000

MOSCOW (AP) _ After years of getting sand kicked in its face by its parliamentary big brother, Russia’s lower house is finally getting its revenge.

Lawmakers in the lower house, the State Duma, are showing noticeable relish in their threats to push through President Vladimir Putin’s first major domestic policy initiative _ a bill that would overhaul Russia’s upper house of parliament.

On Tuesday, leaders of the upper house shied away from a showdown over the bill they oppose, instead agreeing to join a conciliatory commission to find a compromise. The entire body was expected to meet Friday to work out details.

The Duma’s muscle-flexing highlights a stark shift in relations between the president and the parliament since Putin replaced Boris Yeltsin. December elections filled the lower house with Kremlin loyalists, and Putin has focused on reducing the massive powers of Russia’s 89 regional governors, who fill half of the 178 seats in the upper house, called the Federation Council.

Before that, Yeltsin mostly used the Federation Council _ which was largely loyal to him _ to counterbalance the Communist-led opposition that dominated the lower house. It worked, and the Duma was unable to push through any significant initiatives and found itself reduced to rubber-stamping Yeltsin’s’ choices for prime minister.

Putin has also used the enmity between the houses to push his own agenda, getting the political backing he needs from the Duma to challenge the governors who amassed so much power under Yeltsin.

``Putin is using the anger of the lower house at the upper for his own interests,″ said analyst Andrei Ryabov, with the Moscow Carnegie Center.

The bill would replace the governors and regional legislative leaders who comprise the upper house with regionally appointed senators. The Duma overwhelmingly approved the proposal, but it was quickly vetoed by the Federation Council.

But this time, the Duma appears to be in the stronger position with the two-thirds majority necessary to override the veto and make the bill law.

Putin says reining in the regions is necessary to boost the economy and prevent the breakup of the state. Other proposed bills would permit Putin to remove elected governors found by courts to have violated the law and suspend governors who face criminal charges.

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