Having Crushed Rebellion, Yeltsin Government Turns Against Itself
Fresh attempts at political reform in Russia are quickly laying the foundation for a new and destabilizing power struggle.
New battle lines in Moscow's political struggle are taking shape less than a month after President Boris Yeltsin crushed a neo-Communist and ultranationalist uprising, using Army tanks to shell the Russian parliament building.
These days, instead of grappling with an obstinate legislature, Mr. Yeltsin finds himself bickering with his own government, while Cabinet ministers quarrel among themselves.
``The government has practically disappeared as a unified entity,'' wrote Ivan Rodin in yesterday's Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily.
The parliamentary election campaign is serving as the chief catalyst for the new political battles. Yeltsin's decision to implement land reform by presidential decree may also create tension.
In recent months, Yeltsin and others have said a revamped parliament and a new constitution were needed to ensure the continuation of economic reform. But the way the campaign is going, the elections may end up destabilizing society instead.
``Instead of consolidating democratically minded structures during the election process, we are dividing them,'' influential politician Gennady Burbulis told the Literaturnaya Gazeta weekly.
``Instead of ending up with a parliamentary majority based on conviction, we will again get a loose coalition, based on compulsion that reacts to the changing political situation,'' he continued.
The Cabinet is now divided into two electoral camps, which are haggling over election rules and access to the media. Ironically, the squabbling features much of the same shrill rhetoric and name-calling that characterized Yeltsin's battles with his old enemies in the former parliament.
Intragovernmental rifts became public after Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin issued an order Tuesday giving the Cabinet control of a controversial television program. The one-hour show that, before the uprising, had promoted the views of Yeltsin's parliament foes, now will provide information on government activities, Mr. Chernomyrdin said.
Presidential aides blasted the premier's move. A statement by Yeltsin press secretary Vyacheslav Kostikov said: ``Regrettable as it is, one finds the government has achieved that which, thanks to the protests of democratic groups, the parliament and [its chairman, Ruslan] Khasbulatov had failed to do - establish its own ministry of propaganda.''
The media will greatly influence the outcome of parliamentary elections, Russian experts say. The reason for the squabbling, they add, lies in the fact that Yeltsin and Chernomyrdin supporters have split into two distinct campaign organizations. Radical reformers who look to Yeltsin for support are in the Russia's Choice election bloc, while those who favor a more cautious reform path have joined the Russian Unity and Accord bloc, which enjoys Chernomyrdin's favor.
Injected into the media struggle is a large element of personal ambition and rivalry, particularly between Mikhail Poltoranin, head of the Federal Information Center, and acting Information Minister Vladimir Shumeiko. Mr. Poltoranin said the Information Min- istry attempted to use ``Bolshevik methods'' to muzzle the opposition press. Mr. Shumeiko retorted by calling Poltoranin a liar and a presidential ``henchman.''
Officials are also arguing over election rules to the new Federal Assembly, due to be elected Dec. 12. Under terms of a Yeltsin decree, ministers are permitted to run for elected office, and, if successful, combine their Cabinet posts with legislative duties.
But some politicians involved in drafting a new constitution, including St. Petersburg Mayor Anatoly Sobchak, say the decree opens the door for the misuse of state funds by ministers, especially during the campaign.
Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Shakhrai, leader of the Russian Unity and Accord (RUA) bloc, has suggested that those ministers responsible for the economy should be barred from becoming parliament members to ``ensure the operative and efficient work of the government, despite the election campaign.''
Another point of contention could emerge from Mr. Yeltsin's decree lifting restrictions on the purchase and sale of land.
The land reform decree issued Wednesday is the president's boldest economic step taken since the Oct. 4 uprising, but some prominent government reformers, including Economics Minister Yegor Gaidar, are on record as opposing implementation of land reform by presidential decree. They say land ownership rules should be approved by the new Federal Assembly to give the reform more legitimacy.