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Duma Votes to Remove Gudkov From Parliament

MTGennady Gudkov wearing an organizer's badge at a large protest Feb. 4.

The State Duma voted Friday to strip prominent opposition figure Gennady Gudkov of his seat in the lower house of parliament for engaging in unlawful entrepreneurship, marking the first time a deputy has been kicked out of the Duma without being convicted of a crime.

The United Russia-backed vote also removed one of parliament's most vocal and charismatic critics of the Kremlin in Gudkov, who had denied wrongdoing and maintained that he is under attack for backing the opposition protest movement.

In his last statement before Friday's vote, Just Russia member Gudkov warned ominously that his ouster, which he said was unconstitutional, would precipitate a crisis in the government.

“The case is not about me. You have triggered a mechanism that will destroy the state and we will all be responsible for it,” Gudkov said.

A Just Russia leader Sergei Mironov called the actions against Gudkov “unlawful revenge.” “It is a rude violation of the Consititution,” Mironov said.

The Duma voted 291 to 150 in favor of stripping Gudkov of his seat, with nearly all members of the United Russia and nationalist Liberal Democratic Party factions supporting the motion and most Just Russia and Communist Party members voting against it. Three deputies abstained from the vote.

United Russia Deputy Andrei Isayev argued that the Duma was carrying out the will of the people in divesting Gudkov of his seat.

"Our voters are saying: Will it really be demonstrated that there are some people of one type and some people of another?" Isayev said during the Duma session. "People expect fairness: Everyone is equal in the eyes of the law. We cannot undermine that hope of our people."

He also tried to humiliate Gudkov by reminding deputies that Gudkov had been a member of United Russia during his early tenure in parliament: “He worked with us under the same laws that he is now actively fighting against,” Isayev said.

Gudkov, a former KGB colonel who was first voted into the Duma in 2001, had been under pressure by the authorities for months. He recently sold his private security firm Oskord after police threatened to withdraw the business's license because weapons were "improperly stored."

Duma members had accused him of taking part in the management of the Kolomensky Stroitel building materials retailer. While it is legal for parliament members to own a business, they cannot profit from it or be directly involved in its activities.

The evidence presented to the Duma included a copy of the minutes of a board of directors meeting in July. The document bore Gudkov's signature.

One United Russia deputy on Friday voted against removing Gudkov from the Duma: Stanislav Govorukhin, the film director and Vladimir Putin's campaign chief for the presidential election earlier this year.

Ruling party member Boris Reznik abstained from the vote, while member Alexander Khinshtein did not take part.

There could have been more United Russia deputies supporting Gudkov if the vote had been secret, A Just Russia Deputy Ilya Ponomaryov told The Moscow Times, citing private conversations with some United Russia members.

A Just Russia said Gudkov's Duma seat would be given to Nikita Krichevsky, a prominent left-leaning economist known for his columns in the Moskovsky Komsomolets tabloid. Krichevsky was next in line for a deputy seat on the Just Russia party list submitted for December's parliamentary vote.

But Gudkov and fellow party member Ponomaryov speculated that the current Duma would not last much longer due to infighting among deputies.

“Today a major parliamentary crisis has begun,” Ponomaryov wrote on his LiveJournal blog. “Now the reciprocal reproofs, showdowns and insinuations will be endless. There will be purges, reciprocal surveillance, and suspicions.”

“The only way out of this situation is to dissolve the State Duma,” he wrote, predicting that that will happen in December.

Earlier this week, Just Russia leader Sergei Mironov said he had asked Duma Speaker Sergei Naryshkin to check several United Russia deputies who he said were also involved in running businesses. There have also been reports that the Kremlin has pushed for investigations of United Russia deputies accused of similar violations.

United Russia Deputy Sergei Zhelyznyak said other deputies might lose their Duma seats if they are found to have committed violations similar to those Gudkov was accused of.

Some demonstrators staged a protest outside the Duma on Friday to show support for Gudkov. One of them held a sign with the “no” symbol — a red circle with a diagonal line across it — with a horn behind it, a reference to Gudkov's surname, which is similar to the Russian word for “honk.”

Gudkov, who had seemed prepared for the decision to strip him of his seat, told reporters that his leaving parliament would push him further into street politics. Gudkov has been involved in organizing a number of major opposition rallies in Moscow since December.

“You are witnessing the birth of a new public politician,” he said while waiving goodbye to reporters in the Duma building.

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