State Duma begins work despite protests

Russia's sixth State Duma, the lower house of parliament, began its first session on Wednesday, voting in the ruling party candidate Sergey Naryshkin to become speaker.

United Russia nominated outgoing Kremlin chief of staff Naryshkin despite other parties represented in the lower chamber being not altogether happy with the proposal.

RT`s Ekaterina Gracheva reporting from Russia`s State Duma says the debate was intense and raised voices were audible outside the chamber before the vote took place.

Dmitry Polikanov, a United Russia deputy, believes that with the opposition controlling almost half of the committees in the Duma, it now has a stronger voice, but this will also mean greater responsibility.

This is a significant victory for them [the opposition], and at the same time a significant test, because they will have to show that they are ready to share the responsibility for the faith of the country and that they are able to provide new ideas and constructive criticism of policy,” Polikanov said.

A crowd of protesters gathered outside the State Duma building to hold an unsanctioned rally as the first plenary session of the new lower house was in progress. Opposition bloggers say about 20 people were arrested.

The results of the December 4 elections sparked mass protests in many cities over alleged fraud.­

In the wake of the demonstrations, President Dmitry Medvedev ordered a thorough investigation into the irregularities. As a result, the Central Election Commission cancelled the voting results from 21 polling stations. However, the move did not affect the overall outcome of the parliamentary poll.

In the newly-convened Duma, the opposition will have much stronger representation than previously, with the country’s leading political party, United Russia, failing to gain a constitutional majority. It now has 238 seats in parliament, as opposed to the 315 it had following the last election. While it retains a “simple” majority of seats, we may still expect some heated debates, such as those around choosing a new speaker.

Fifteen of the Duma’s 29 committees will be headed by the parliamentary majority from the United Russia party.  Six will be led by the Communist Party, while the Liberal Democrats and Fair Russia will be in charge of two each.