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As Yeltsin Wavers on Election Promise, Supporters Fret

BORIS YELTSIN's abrupt about-face on a promise to hold early presidential elections in June is raising doubts about the Russian president's commitment to democratic reforms.

At a closed-door Kremlin meeting of Russian media leaders Mr. Yeltsin said that he wanted to remain in office until his term expires in June 1996, instead of holding an early vote next June.

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``I favor the presidential mandate being used to the full, until 1996,'' Yeltsin said at the weekend meeting, according to the Interfax and Itar-Tass news agencies.

Yeltsin's reversal has surprised some of his aides and disappointed some politicians, who say such an authoritarian move could hurt Russia's fledgling democracy.

Yeltsin ``cannot cancel his decision on holding a presidential election on June 12 any more than he can cancel the election to the Federal Assembly [or parliament], because that is his commitment to the citizens of Russia and the world community,'' said Konstantin Borovoi, leader of the Economic Freedom Party, which advocates government laissez-faire policies.

Yeltsin has not officially decreed that the elections be canceled. Instead, he is counting on the support of the new State Duma, or parliamentary lower house, to be elected on Dec. 12, in his bid to stay in office.

He sought to mollify criticism by saying he did not intend to run for re-election in 1996. He said he would groom a candidate to replace him.

``Everyone knows how many blows of fate I have already suffered. It is too much for one man,'' Yeltsin reportedly said.

Sergei Filatov, Yeltsin's chief of staff, told Interfax that the Russian president had originally agreed to hold early elections only as an ``unnecessary compromise'' with opposition forces before the violence in Moscow on Oct. 3 and 4.

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``I believe the president must be given until 1996 to carry out all the promises he made to the people,'' Interfax quoted Mr. Filatov as saying.

Filatov earlier told Interfax that Yeltsin has the right to cancel elections, but that he would not do so ``on moral grounds.''

Yeltsin became Russia's first democratically elected president in June 1991. During the parliament's armed rebellion in September and October, Yeltsin promised early presidential elections.

Yeltsin's comments follow steps to completely revise Russia's constitution, a draft of which is scheduled to be published this week. But his flip-flop maneuverings on the charter, known as the Basic Law, and the election issue may create credibility problems for his administration as the campaign season kicks into gear.

Although the text has not been published, several changes to last summer's constitutional draft have been leaked. One of those is a clause allowing Yeltsin to remain in office and another limits the term of office for parliamentarians to two years.

Twenty-one election blocs so far have officially registered to participate in the December parliamentary elections, although several failed to gain the required 100,000 signatures.

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