Russian presidential election scheduled for June

April 06, 1991|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,Moscow Bureau of The Sun

MOSCOW -- The Russian Federation parliament scheduled yesterday a presidential election for June 12, setting the stage for the first popular election of a Russian leader in history and handing front-runner Boris N. Yeltsin a political triumph.

In a convincing 607-228 vote, the parliament also gave final approval to expanded powers for Mr. Yeltsin, now the parliamentary leader, until the first elected president with full executive powers takes office.

"I want to thank you for your confidence," the big, white-haired Russian leader told the Congress of People's Deputies after prolonged applause. "I'm convinced and declare very firmly that it will be used only in the name of and for the good of the people of Russia."

He later expressed the willingness to work with the Soviet leadership of President Mikhail S. Gorbachev and Prime Minister Valentin S. Pavlov on the basis of "decisive movement toward a market economy" but said that he would not sacrifice Russia's sovereignty. He said the Congress had shown that a standoff between uncompromising political factions produced nothing useful.

The resolution temporarily grants Mr. Yeltsin the authority to rule by decree in the biggest Soviet republic -- a power Mr. Gorbachev already has in the whole nation.

The Russian leader can suspend some local governing bodies and remove officials as long as he abides by the constitution. In addition, many powers reserved for the full Congress now can be exercised by the smaller permanent legislature, the Supreme Soviet.

The lopsided vote to give Mr. Yeltsin the new powers suggested that even some of his Communist opponents decided to back him. Mr. Gorbachev and Mr. Pavlov have largely lost public support and appear powerless to stop spreading strikes, so many deputies apparently view Mr. Yeltsin's authority with the public as the last bulwark against anarchy.

In the eight-day Russian Congress, which ended last night, Mr. Yeltsin again demonstrated his talent for turning potential political disaster into victory.

Hard-line Communist deputies had called the Congress against Mr. Yeltsin's wishes and with the express purpose of removing him. Six ranking members of parliament, including one former democratic activist, issued a joint statement condemning Mr. Yeltsin that appeared to be a serious threat.

In the event, Mr. Yeltsin has emerged with greater power and the prospect of winning the still more powerful post of executive president in just two months. While there are expected to be other candidates, he is all but certain to win.

The attacks by Communist opponents on the country's most popular politician succeeded only in splitting the Communist Party. About 200 Communists, offended by the hard-liners' tactics, defected to the Yeltsin camp and formed a group called Communists for Democracy to counter the conservative Communists of Russia.

As parliamentary factions maneuvered, the crisis outside took its own course.

Though the official media pointed hopefully to a few cases of striking miners returning to work, the majority of 300,000 coal miners on strike appeared to be rejecting a government offer to double their pay and standing firm for resignation of Mr. Gorbachev and other political demands.

Tass said that 8,000 empty train wagons had accumulated in Kemerovo in Western Siberia awaiting coal.

Workers who shut down several big factories in the Byelorussian cap

ital of Minsk to protest higher prices mostly returned to work yesterday.

But they vowed to strike again April 10 if their demands -- including resignation of both the Soviet and Byelorussian leadership -- are not met.

Several major plants in the Western Russian city of Bryansk were hit by walkouts in response to a proposal to raise lunch prices. Workers in the Ural Mountain industrial center of Sverdlovsk threatened to strike next week, and Siberian oil workers were also reported to be discussing some protest action.

While many angry workers demanded the resignation of Mr. Gorbachev, some of the Soviet president's political opponents spoke out against such demands.

Rumors have been rife in Moscow that the Communist Party may be preparing to try to dump Mr. Gorbachev as party leader and then seek his removal as president -- replacing him with a more reactionary figure.

As a result, four liberal political factions, including the Social Democrats, issued a statement yesterday opposing Mr. Gorbachev's resignation and urging him to agree to talks on formation of a coalition government.

While Mr. Yeltsin is in the ascendancy for now, some observers believe that his achieving real power, assuming he is elected to the presidency, may end his long-running popularity. They reason that he will be taking responsibility for the country at a time when the economic collapse will be impossible to stop or slow.

"If he cannot prove he is capable now [of solving Russia's problems], this surely will mean his political death," the pro-Yeltsin daily Komsomolskaya Pravda said.

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