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Russian Duma Kills No-Confidence Measure

The lower house of Russia's parliament has failed to pass a no-confidence motion in the government led by Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov. Many pro-Kremlin deputies signaled their dissatisfaction over controversial social reforms by declining to cast votes.

Just 112 deputies in the 450-seat Duma voted for the motion called by communists and others in the opposition to protest social reforms that have led to massive street protests across Russia in recent weeks.

The motion had little chance of passing given that the pro-Kremlin United Russia Party holds a two-thirds majority in the chamber. But most of these deputies declined to vote, apparently seeking to distance themselves from the government despite having overwhelmingly supported the law on social reforms last year. In a bid to streamline government finances the law replaced Soviet-era benefits and subsidies, such as free transportation, with cash payments. But bureaucratic delays and poor implementation of the law sparked street protests in cities and towns across Russia, since it came into force on January 1.

Most of those affected are elderly pensioners, war veterans, and others who had long enjoyed financial support, especially in the chaotic transition to a free-market economy from the state-run Soviet system.

Most people say the payments fall far short of what they previously received, worsening the already difficult economic situation in which millions of people live in Russia. Before the vote, Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov spoke to the Duma and acknowledged making mistakes, but he promised to improve his government's record. Mr. Fradkov said that neither he nor his Cabinet ministers were walking away from their responsibility. He added that everyone from ministers to regional governors are seeking to implement the changes properly. But many of those governors complain that the federal government is trying to pass the burden for paying benefits to the regions at a time when their own budgets are under strain.

President Putin has distanced himself from the issue, publicly criticizing several Cabinet ministers for what he calls their poor handling of the transition to the new system. This had led to speculation that Mr. Putin may undertake some kind of Cabinet re-organization soon, possibly dismissing key officials such as the Health and Social Development minister.

Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets since New Year's Day in what has become the largest measure of dissatisfaction in the government since Mr. Putin became president more than five years ago. In many cases police declined to take action against the protesters. Police and members of the military have also lost similar benefits under the new law.