Yeltsin Proposes a Deal To Restive Russian Congress
CALL FOR `BREATHING SPACE'
RUSSIAN President Boris Yeltsin opened the first day of a crucial session of the country's supreme legislature with a call for his opponents to abandon political confrontation and to back economic reforms.
In a low-key address in the Grand Kremlin Palace Nov. 30, Mr. Yeltsin offered a package of political and economic deals to cover a "stabilization period" for the next year and a half.
"It is clear that the country should be kept away from the political hysteria whipped up by anti-reformists," the president told the Congress of People's Deputies. "A breathing space is vitally necessary for Russia, if only for a year, or 1-1/2 years."
While chastising the conservative-dominated parliament for treating the government as a "junior partner," Yeltsin offered a clever power-sharing arrangement. He proposed to yield his controversial emergency powers, which expired Dec. 1, in exchange for a clear delineation of authority that denies parliament any executive role.
The president packaged this political program with the outline of an economic policy that seeks to preserve market reforms while offering a number of concessions aimed at easing resistance to them.
The priority in economic policy should be to curb inflation and stabilize the ruble, the country's sinking currency, Yeltsin said. He defended the need to complete land reform on the basis of private ownership and to privatize state enterprises.
At the same time, Yeltsin met a long-standing demand that people be compensated for the loss of their savings in the inflation that followed the lifting of price controls. He also pledged to protect state-run industries and give preference to Russian industry over foreign competitors.
"The Russian state for a long time to come should and will do more for its citizens than is customary in other countries," Yeltsin told the Congress. He argued this was in accordance with the "national psychology of Russian life."
Parliament Chairman Ruslan Khasbulatov, in an hour-long retort broken by frequent applause, called for Russia to adopt a more state-controlled economy, similar, he claimed, to what most European and Asian nations follow. He accused the government of trying to "Americanize our economy."
The winter session of the Congress, the country's highest legislative body, has been preceded by rising political rhetoric from all sides, along with Western-style dealmaking that is becoming more and more the norm here. The Congress's 1,041 deputies are divided into at least three major blocs: radical democrats who unhesitatingly back the president; hard-line antigovernment forces grouped in the Russian Unity alliance of former Communists and Russian nationalists; and centrists, divided into many differ ent factions. In addition there are many unaffiliated deputies.
THE government's strategy has been to woo the centrists, led by Civic Union and its key backers among the state industry managers, and to win support of independent deputies. The government's revised economic reform plan, presented recently to parliament by Acting Premier Yegor Gaidar and amplified on Dec. 1 by Yeltsin, already went a long way toward meeting many of the centrist demands.
The opposition, however, also seeks the formation of a coalition government, a new Cabinet including members of the centrist bloc in its ranks. The Congress put a vote whether to approve Mr. Gaidar as premier on the agenda, a move that could lead to formation of a new government.
"I hope this Congress can achieve a multilateral compromise - first about the anticrisis economic program, then about the balance of power between legislative and executive branches, finally about the personnel membership of the government," Yeltsin adviser Sergei Stankeivich says. "President Yeltsin is prepared for all three compromises."
Parliament Chairman Khasbulatov called for Yeltsin to give up his emergency powers, which allow him to legislate by decree, and to support the parliament's new law on government, which demands that all Cabinet members be submitted to it for approval.
Yeltsin's package of political proposals offers quite a different deal. He prepared to yield his extra powers in exchange for parliament disengaging from executive decisions, including the all-important area of management of federal property. He also proposed that the Congress, from which the standing Supreme Soviet or parliament is drawn, limit its twice-yearly sessions solely to constitutional issues.
Yeltsin also proposed that the law on government should be shelved until a new constitution is adopted. During the "stabilization period," the procedure of only the prime minister being approved by the parliament, leaving the president free to appoint the rest of the Cabinet, should be maintained, he said. All economic-reform legislation should be discussed within 10 days of its submission, Yeltsin added.
"The tragedy of 20th century Russia is that it did not manage, despite many attempts, to fully carry out any reform," Yeltsin concluded. "And this was due not as much to reaction from the opposition but more due to the weakness of the reformers."