Yeltsin Faces Storm of Parliamentary Opposition
Russian leader may offer lawmakers `good will gestures' to keep peace
THREE months into Russia's radical reform, Boris Yeltsin is apparently standing firm against waves of political assault and fading popular support.
Both President Yeltsin and his opponents are girding for a confrontation when the sixth session of the Russian Congress of People's Deputies, the country's supreme legislature, opens Monday. The parliament and its leadership are taking aim at the reforms and the reformers who form the core of Yeltsin's government.
"We have never supported the economic reform program," parliament Vice Chairman Sergei Filatov said in an interview. "Three months under this program shows our concerns were well-founded," he adds, pointing to a collapse of industrial production.
"The top leadership of the government is weak," Mr. Filatov says, arguing that Yeltsin should relinquish the post of prime minister and that "personnel mistakes" should be corrected.
"We can't sacrifice the reformist government, which is truly reformist," Yeltsin has vowed, according to the official Tass news agency. "It is a bold, cohesive and young team."
"I advised him not to sacrifice anyone," says Yeltsin aide Galina Starovoitova. "No compromise should be made." Yeltsin concessions
But despite this tough talk, there are indications that Yeltsin is prepared to make concessions, including a government reshuffle and easing of some aspects of the tough reforms, to ensure the basic continuity of policy and to preserve his own power. Yesterday, Yeltsin fired his Finance Minister Yegor Gaidar.
"My forecast is that the government will survive but certain reorganization is necessary," says Sergei Stankevich, State Counsellor of Russia, in an interview. Yeltsin is preparing "goodwill gestures to parliament," he says, including giving up some of the emergency powers he was granted. Yeltsin hopes "to come to a peace agreement with the parliamentary leadership" before the session opens, presidential advisor Mr. Stankevich says.
The Congress of People's Deputies, from which the smaller standing parliament is drawn, has been a particularly unruly body for Yeltsin to deal with. Its 1,060 members were elected in 1990, when the Communist Party was still in power and its ranks are filled with Communists and their allies. Hard-core Yeltsin supporters from the democratic movement, including Democratic Rossiya and smaller parties, number little more than 300.
Stankevich, the former vice mayor of Moscow, describes the conflict as one between "two approaches to the Russian state, two approaches to Russian reform and two political coalitions." The parliamentary leadership favors a parliamentary republic with substantial decentralization of power and slow reform - with large injections of government spending, he says.
The Yeltsin camp favors a presidential republic with a strong, centralized executive.
"Reform in Russia should be made in the form of quick breakthroughs, otherwise we can't control the situation," Stankevich says, with a priority on financial stabilization "even at the expense of serious . . . social problems."
But there is already evidence of the Yeltsin government's willingness to ease off slightly on its tight fiscal policies, particularly by pumping more money into the huge state-run industries.
"We can give up the idea of the priority of a balanced budget," suggests Ms. Starovoitova. The government has recently delayed plans to free up the heavily subsidized low prices for oil and gas.
Stankevich describes the government "reorganization" as a logical consequence of the need to move to a new stage of economic reforms. While the first stage concentrated on tough financial and fiscal austerity, the next should focus on getting industry and agriculture off the ground. For that, "we need to attract professionals with more practical experience," including managers from the state-run industry and from the military-industrial complex, he says.
Both Yeltsin officials and parliament leaders agree that the giant defense industry needs protection from the impact of huge slashes in military spending.
"This branch still needs a plan for centralized control," Filatov says.
"Now they are in a tragic situation," Stankevich concurs. "We should give them their chance," he says, including subsidizing conversion to civilian production through arms sales overseas.
Aside from economic reform, the Congress, which is scheduled to run until April 15, will focus on a proposed new constitution for Russia. The Congress has turned away two previous drafts. The reformist authors sought to drop the Communist document in favor of a democratic political structure and free-market economy.
The latest draft already reflects a number of compromises made by the Constitutional Commission in order to gain its approval, says Boris Strachun, a constitutional lawyer for the commission. The authors abandoned earlier efforts to drop the Bolshevik-designed structure of national entities in favor of an American-style division into purely territorial units. They also chose a combination of presidential and parliamentary systems. New constitution
The most serious compromise has already been made by last week's signing of a federal treaty with 18 of the 20 autonomous national units of the Russian Federation. Many critics, including the head of the Constitutional Court, see this as undermining the Constitution and the concept of Russia as a unitary federal state. But Yeltsin and some of his advisers have recently indicated they are uncomfortable with the draft constitution. Yeltsin deputy Sergei Shakrai has prepared four amendments which, according
to Stankevich, aim at strengthening the president's authority.
Still, the Yeltsin camp seems prepared to accept the draft as a basic document to be altered later. But they threaten that if the Congress does not pass it, they might introduce "a presidential version," as Mr. Shakrai put it to Tass. Alternately there is talk of bypassing the Congress with a popular referendum.
"The Congress will be dramatic in the beginning," Filatov predicts, "but then it will calm down, as it always does."