Russia moved closer to a constitutional crisis last night as its parliament rejected President Boris Yeltsin's nomination of Sergei Kiriyenko as prime minister.
Mr Yeltsin insists that the young technocrat is the only possible candidate for the post and has vowed to resubmit his name for approval. So the stage is set for further confrontations, with parliament able to veto the nomination up to three times before the President can respond by ordering a dissolution.
The rejection of Mr Kiriyenko was scarcely surprising. Even Mr Yeltsin has admitted that some might see it as less than logical to choose a 35-year-old who has spent less than a year in government for a post that will put him a heartbeat away from the world's second most powerful nuclear arsenal.
Those deputies who had not made up their minds beforehand were left in no doubt about the inadvisability of such an appointment when Mr Kiriyenko addressed parliament yesterday. Many said he sounded like a precocious whizz-kid giving an economics lecture to his students. There are also justifiable suspicions about the President's motives for putting forward such an inexperienced nominee. The ousted premier, Viktor Chernomyrdin, is increasingly seen as a frontrunner in the presidential election in the year 2000, but many believe Mr Yeltsin wants to stand for another term, despite his public denials.
Nonetheless, this is a contest in which parliamentarians may yet blink first. Not all have their nation's interests in mind. Some will probably be prepared to support Mr Kiriyenko in subsequent votes in return for ministerial posts or other offers of presidential patronage.
Mr Yeltsin's right to dissolve parliament after it rejects his nominee three times is also a powerful deterrent as most lawmakers are reluctant to face early elections. But some intense bargaining still lies ahead before Mr Kiriyenko's appointment stands any chance of being approved, and the prospect of coherent leadership in Moscow looks as distant as ever.