MOSCOW — The parliament chosen in a fraud-tainted election that set off protests throughout Russia opened its first session Wednesday with the new speaker promising more genuine debate to win back the voters' trust.
Under Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, the parliament has become little more than a rubber stamp for government initiatives. The previous speaker once famously said it was "not a place for political discussion."
Sergei Naryshkin said this would change with him as the new speaker.
"My firm conviction is that, indeed, parliament is a place for very serious and substantial discussions," said Naryshkin, who until Tuesday had served as chief of staff for President Dmitry Medvedev.
Naryshkin, 57, is a longtime Putin loyalist and has a similar background. He worked with Putin in the St. Petersburg government in the 1990s and is widely believed to have served in the KGB in the 1980s. His official biography says little about those years, while noting that he was posted to the Soviet Embassy in Belgium.
Naryshkin is a member of Putin's United Russia party, which won 238 of the 450 seats in the State Duma, parliament's elected lower house.
Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the flamboyant leader of the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party, one of three minority parties in parliament, said the street protests would be stemmed if people saw their concerns being discussed and addressed by their elected representatives.
Before Wednesday's session began, however, police broke up a small protest outside and arrested about a dozen people. Some wore signs with the words "we didn't vote for you" and a picture of the bear symbolizing United Russia.