Image: Mikhail Fradkov
Misha Japaridze  /  AP
Russian prime minister nominee Mikhail Fradkov.
updated 3/5/2004 9:09:17 AM ET 2004-03-05T14:09:17

Russia's overwhelmingly pro-Kremlin parliament easily approved Vladimir Putin's nominee for prime minister on Friday, setting the stage for a new Cabinet to take over as the president heads into a virtually assured second term later this month.

Lawmakers in the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, voted 352 to 58 in favor of confirming Mikhail Fradkov, with 24 legislators abstaining. Fradkov needed a simple majority of 226 votes to win approval, and he does not need approval from the upper house.

Fradkov's approval had been assured after leaders of United Russia, the loyal party that swept parliamentary elections in December and holds 306 of the Duma's 450 seats, said earlier this week that the party would support him.

Putin nominated Fradkov, 53, on Monday, a week after he stunned the nation by firing longtime Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov less than a month before the March 14 presidential election. He had been expected to dismiss Kasyanov some time after the vote.

Putin said that he wanted to give the nation a glimpse of the new team responsible for running the country in his second term and indicated he would count on Fradkov to implement long-awaited administrative reforms to streamline the government.

Russia's economy has grown steadily during Putin's first term, in large part thanks to high world oil prices, but a bloated bureaucracy stifles further progress, and about a fifth of the country's 144 million citizens live below the poverty line -- a figure Putin has called shameful.

Speaking to the Duma before the confirmation vote, Fradkov said the government must "reduce poverty, raise the level of welfare of citizens and enhance security," the ITAR-Tass news agency reported. He said Russia's economy must be more competitive and pledged to "answer personally" for the implementation of administrative reforms, the Interfax news agency reported.

In televised comments, Fradkov pledged to reorganize the government by cutting the number of ministries, saying that there will be "significantly fewer" than the 23 that exist now. He said about a quarter of the functions carried out by the government are unnecessary or redundant.

Fradkov said ministries would focus on strategic planning, leaving bureaucratic tasks to lower-level agencies, and claimed the changes would make officials more responsible for their decisions, reducing "the facelessness of the work of the state apparatus," Interfax reported.

Previous efforts to reform Russia's post-Soviet government structure have produced few tangible changes. Fradkov, a little-known administrator who spent most of his years in the foreign trade sector, has given few hints of his concrete plans since returning from Brussels, where he was serving as envoy to the European Union when Putin plucked him out of obscurity.

Fradkov, who headed the tax police agency for a year before it was eliminated in 2001, told the Duma that the government must push ahead with tax reforms meant to clean up the economy and boost revenues. He called for reducing the social tax to take a burden off companies while improving administration and collection.

Russia's prime minister is responsible for shaping economic policy and coordinating the work of other ministries. However, the defense and interior ministers answer directly to the president, who holds far more power than any other figure in the ruling hierarchy.

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