With Russia's economy foundering, the lower chamber of parliament voted Monday to reject Viktor Chernomyrdin as prime minister despite warnings that the situation was hurtling out of control.
The State Duma voted 273-138 to reject Chernomyrdin after President Boris Yeltsin met with parliamentary leaders in a bid to break the standoff over forming a new government. It was the second time the Duma had refused to confirm Chernomyrdin.Yeltsin now gets one more shot at nominating a prime minister. He can renominate Chernomyrdin or another candidate for a third vote. If his choice is again rejected, the constitution calls for him to dissolve the Duma and call new elections within three months. In the interval, he would rule by decree.
"The economic crisis is gaining momentum with catastrophic speed," Chernomyrdin told lawmakers before the vote.
Russia has had an interim government for the past two weeks, while Chernomyrdin struggled to win confirmation from the opposition-dominated Duma and the economy spiraled downward.
Russia's beleaguered markets received another jolt Monday when the ruble crashed again and Central Bank Chairman Sergei Dubinin offered to resign.
Chernomyrdin warned that swift action was vital to try to stem the crisis and he appealed for an end to the political squabbling that has gripped the country. "We are all standing on the edge and no time is left for settling scores. We must begin acting," he said.
Both Yeltsin and Chernomyrdin met with the leaders of the parliamentary factions at the Kremlin, but the Communists and their allies insisted afterward they would again vote against Chernomyrdin.
"Our stance remains unchanged," Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov told reporters after consultations with Yeltsin.
"He doesn't even understand the program he has proposed," Zyuganov said of Chernomyrdin.
However, Yeltsin defended Chernomyrdin's candidacy and said he wouldn't nominate anyone else. Chernomyrdin held the post of premier for five years before being dismissed in March.
The president had suggested that the parliament confirm Chernomyrdin and then assess his performance after a "trial period" of six to eight months. If Yeltsin dissolves the Duma, he would effectively rule by decree during the interim.
Chernomyrdin, speaking on national television Sunday, warned that further delay in forming a new government would exacerbate the nation's economic woes to such a degree that extreme nationalist forces might try to take advantage of the turmoil and seize power.
"They will not spare anyone. That would be a tragedy and catastrophe for Russia," Chernomyrdin said.
He also stressed that Russia still wants aid and cooperation from the West to help ease the economic crisis, which has seen the ruble collapse and prices soar.
"Russia is now enmeshed in the global financial system, and this system doesn't want any collapse," Chernomyrdin said.
Chernomyrdin pledged to avoid backtracking on free-market reforms and retrenchment into Soviet-style economic isolation advocated by some hard-liners.