Russia Congress Ends With No Clear Victor
Yeltsin to attend summit as both sides plan referendum. POWER STRUGGLE
BOTH sides in Russia's bitter political war claimed victory yesterday as the Congress of People's Deputies, the country's highest legislature, ended a tumultuous four-day session. But all that was really clear is that Russia's struggle for power will continue.
"The Communist coup d`etat did not take place because the people won and reforms won," Russian President Boris Yeltsin told a crowd of supporters holding a vigil outside the Kremlin on Sunday night after a vote to impeach him failed.
"Yeltsin remained the president but ceased to be the leader of the nation. This is a triumph of the power of the people," deputy Sergei Baburin, leader of the hard-line Russian Unity faction, told reporters as he left the Grand Kremlin Palace hall.
"Since yesterday, we are living under conditions of dual power," Nikolai Travkin, head of the centrist Democratic Party of Russia, told the Congress deputies yesterday.
President Yeltsin will now try to consolidate his hold on power through a vote of confidence in his rule on April 25. The Congress has countered with its own, broader referendum.
The Russian leader will seek support as well from the United States and other Western nations, not only in the form of political statements but in economic aid. Yeltsin is scheduled to fly to Vancouver, British Columbia, at the end of the week for an April 3-4 summit with President Clinton. While the summit seemed in doubt over the weekend, Yeltsin is poised to go ahead, seeing the summit as an opportunity to demonstrate that he is in charge.
The two sides in the Russian fight continued to fire fierce rhetorical volleys at each other as the Congress drew to a close. The deputies passed a strong resolution condemning the president's March 20 address, which declared a period of "special rule," as a "serious violation of the Constitution" and accused him of provoking "confrontation in society and an aggravation of the political crisis."
The Congress resolution suspended Yeltsin's formal decree, pending a ruling by the Constitutional Court. It called for Yeltsin and Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin to form a coalition Cabinet, as well as for the ouster of the president's aides who prepared his controversial speech.
Congress deputies also made a bid to take control of the powerful television and radio broadcasting media, dissolving the Federal Information Center, which runs the state-controlled media, and placing those organizations under their control. In a separation resolution, the Congress set up special committees to oversee the media to ensure equal access that they allege is lacking. The decision overtly violates the existing law and will be challenged by the government in court.
The Congress also spent a good deal of yesterday morning assailing the demonstration held outside the Kremlin, which one deputy called a gathering of "drug addicts and drunkards." Parliament chairman Ruslan Khasbulatov claimed that the rally heard "outright calls to rebellion" and summoned the interior minister and Moscow's mayor to appear before the hall.
In a harsh reply, the president's spokesman dismissed the Congress as an illegal institution, threatening to continue the political battle in the streets.
"The Congress of People's Deputies has failed to draw proper lessons from its political fiasco and is continuing to expand the sphere of its anti-constitutional actions," press secretary Vyacheslav Kostikov stated. "By its unceasing anticonstitutional actions [and] endless violations of the procedural rules, the Congress has placed itself above and outside the law, and has overstepped the bounds of democratic and Russian civilization. It has become a revengeful Communist inquisition, prepared to burn eve rything around it."
THE president was clearly heartened by the mass demonstration on Sunday which drew up to 100,000 people, along with smaller pro-Yeltsin rallies elsewhere around the country, and he indicated that he will draw on this well again. "The Congress is deliberately pushing the president and the population to actions of public protest," Mr. Kostikov warned.
The statement, which was condemned by the Congress, even shocked some of the president's strongest supporters. Boris Nemtsov, the reformist governor of Nizhni-Novgorod, compared it to the work of Joseph Stalin's wartime propaganda agency.
"What we are witnessing is a mutual destruction of all federal bodies of power," Mr. Nemtsov told Russian television. "We are observing a phenomenon which is well known to physicists - matter and anti-matter. When they collide, they destroy each other." He decried the lost opportunity for a compromise, the agreement between Yeltsin and parliament chairman Khasbulatov to hold early elections in the fall for both president and parliament, which was rejected by Congress on Sunday.
The battleground will now shift to a potentially historic vote on April 25. The president has declared his intention to go ahead on that day with a vote of confidence on his rule, along with a vote on a new constitution that would dissolve the current Congress and its standing Supreme Soviet in favor of a new, two-chamber parliament.
But the Congress countered with its own planned referendum, for which they have set a stringent requirement that a majority vote of the electorate, not simply those who turn out, is necessary to pass. The Congress-called referendum will ask four questions: Do you trust the president? Do you approve the socio-economic policies carried out by the government since 1992? Do you favor early elections for the president? Do you favor early elections for the Congress?