State Duma deputies, trickling back into Moscow for Vladimir Putin's confirmation hearings, said they would fast-track Putin into office in order to keep political peace as elections approach.
Putin, nominated Monday by President Boris Yeltsin to replace Sergei Stepashin as prime minister, faces a confirmation vote in parliament's lower house Monday afternoon. Analysts said he would receive a safe, if not enthusiastic, majority of votes.
"The Duma can support the candidacy [of Putin] because he is practically a continuation of Stepashin," Anatoly Lukyanov, a senior, mainstream Communist deputy, said in an interview with NTV television. "This is like a continuation of the vote [for Stepashin] and there will be no big display of emotions."
Stepashin was mutely approved in May on a vote of 301 to 55 in the wake of a failed attempt to impeach Yeltsin.
As a security services director known for his extreme loyalty to Duma b?te noire Boris Yeltsin, Putin is not a popular figure with the parliament.
But fearing that rumors that the president would like to dissolve parliament are true, legislators said their main interest lies in timely elections, not in a display of opposition to Yeltsin.
Legislators widely believe that Yeltsin named an antipathetic figure in an attempt to draw their fire. If the Duma votes down Putin's candidacy three times, the president must disband the Duma and call new elections within three months.
Alexander Veshnyakov, head of the Central Election Committee, warned that this could require the elections to be postponed. Yeltsin on Monday set Dec. 19 as the date of Duma elections.
"But I think that will not happen, because the State Duma understands the situation and will reach an agreement with the president at an earlier stage," Veshnyakov said at a news conference shown on television.
Deputies are not going to risk losing their positions and privileges in the final months of the campaign, Vladimir Pribylovsky, a Duma specialist at the Panorama research group, said.
"Putin, Rasputin - it doesn't matter," Pribylovsky said. "The main thing is to go into elections with an office, a telephone and a fax."
Putin is seen as a tougher manager than his predecessor, who reportedly refused to go along with Kremlin schemes to manipulate elections.
Viktor Ilyukhin, the leader of the Duma's radical left wing, said he feared Putin could take unconstitutional decisions such as canceling elections.
"It scares me already," Ilyukhin said in a telephone interview.
So far, only one group of legislators - Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party, which rarely defies the president - has signaled its unconditional support. But almost all factions have indicated they will approve Putin for expediency's sake. Their official positions will be announced after faction meetings later this week and Monday.
Putin, as a member of Our Home Is Russia, already has a power base in the Duma. After most Moscow media branded him a colorless, inexperienced politician, Our Home faction leader Vladimir Ryzhkov outed him as a member of the party leadership.
"We have no reason to vote against a member of our own political council," Ryzhkov said on NTV.
The Communists, their allies, the liberal Yabloko faction and the Russia's Regions group have all said they want the vote over quickly - statements read as a promise to vote Putin through.
To avoid the appearance of collaboration with the Kremlin, the Communists have floated a vague threat to abstain from voting. But analysts said it was more likely that no faction would impose party discipline, letting each deputy vote his conscience and betting that would add up to a simple majority for Putin, as it did in the vote for Stepashin.
Andrei Fyodorov, director of the Political Researchers' Foundation, said that an unpopular government during campaign season would likely help the Communists. "They can say, it's not our government and we don't want any responsibility for what they do. Putin as prime minister will bring the Communists millions of votes."