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Russian Parliament Approves Political Unkown, Zubkov as Prime Minister


The Russian Parliament has overwhelmingly approved President Vladimir Putin's choice to be the country's new Prime Minister. VOA Moscow Correspondent Peter Fedynsky reports that until Viktor Zubkov's surprise nomination two days ago, Russia's new head of government was little known by the lawmakers who voted for him.

Viktor Zubkov assumes the prime minister's position with 381 members of the State Duma, or lower house of the Russian Parliament, voting to approve his nomination. Forty-seven voted against with eight abstentions.

The vote was preceded by a 15-minute address by Mr. Zubkov and a 30 minute question and answer period with lawmakers. The nominee agreed with Duma members that changes are needed in the cabinet's social ministries. Relying on his experience as the head of the Federal Financial Monitoring Service, he underscored the need to fight corruption.

"Society should work together with law enforcement. Only then will the system bring about order with this issue," Mr. Zubkov said.

Opposition to the new prime minister came mostly from Communist lawmakers. Party Chairman Gennadi Zyuganov explains why.

"It's because you agreed to implement old policies," said Zyuganov. "That road will not take Russia into the 21st century."

The emergence of Mr. Zubkov, a virtual unknown until his nomination two days ago, came as a surprise to Russian political observers. His quick approval by the State Duma does not surprise Vladimir Solovyov, a Russian radio and TV anchor, who says it is a Russian tradition to approve the president's choice of prime minister.

"The Russian constitution does not consider the position of prime minister to be of global importance," said Solovyov, "because the Yeltsin-era constitution secures the presidency above all."

President Putin praised his new prime minister as top professional, a decent person and brilliant administrator. The president also said Mr. Zubkov, like any Russian citizen, may compete in Russia's next presidential election. Mr. Putin is prohibited by the constitution to run for a third consecutive term in office. But there is widespread speculation that he is leaving only to return four years later, and expects Zubkov - a 66-year-old with no political base of his own - to serve as a place holder until Mr. Putin is eligible for the presidency again.

Alexander Konovalev, director of the Strategic Assessments Institute in Moscow, says ruling elites have a stake in Mr. Putin's return.

"Putin is a brand; the brand of the corporation known as the Russian bureaucracy. For many, Putin's departure could mean the loss of revenue sources, and perhaps even loss of freedom, because some could be facing jail," he said.

Konovalev adds that Mr. Putin could return in as little as two years, if his successor steps down prematurely for health or other reasons. Prime Minister Zubkov has already said he may run for the presidency. The election is scheduled for March 2008.