Yeltsin's Powerful Mandate

June 14, 1991

Boris N. Yeltsin's landslide victory is a watershed event in the dismantling of the Soviet Communist system. Seventy-three years after Bolsheviks deposed Russia's standing government, voters have returned the Russian republic and Moscow and Leningrad city governments to non-Communist hands. They also want St. Petersburg, the pre-revolutionary name of Leningrad, restored.

These expressions of popular will change the very dynamics of Soviet politics at a time when future power-sharing between the Kremlin and the republics is still to be defined. As a result, already tough negotiations between President Mikhail S. Gorbachev and nine republics are likely to get more difficult. Talks to conclude a new union treaty may even break down. Russia no longer is a vassal that can be dictated to. Neither are other republics.

Such questions as how much revenue the central government can demand from the republics are likely to turn into bitter bones of contention. The same is true with redistribution of property.

The Kremlin and the republics have already been quarreling about the fate of the central government's property. This question will now be complicated by popular demands that the Communist Party return the wealth it confiscated after the 1917 takeover. Churches, for example. The old Bolshevik slogan, "Steal what was stolen," may become topical again as republics want to assert control over their economies. Events in Lithuania, where people were killed by Soviet troops trying to prevent the takeover of party-owned buildings, shows how explosive the property question is.

It will be natural for Mr. Yeltsin to flex his muscles. After all, he won a resounding victory in the first direct election of a national leader Russia has had in its 1,000 years of recorded history. This is a mandate Mr. Gorbachev does not have. He was elected by a parliament which was packed with appointed Communists to guarantee his victory.

The Russian elections proved that the Communist Party is a spent force, despite its considerable political machine and bureaucratic power. Its candidate, former Prime Minister Nikolai I. Ryzhkov, received less than 20 percent of the vote.

Even servicemen in the Red Army and Soviet Navy defied orders of the discredited party by defecting to the Yeltsin camp. Mr. Ryzhkov's nickname -- "the crying Bolshevik" -- said it all. In a poem dedicated to Lenin at the time of the revolution, Vladimir Mayakovsky said Bolsheviks were made of iron and no one will ever see a crying Bolshevik. Voters saw and rejected one this week.

The fight continues. But after seven decades of Communist terror and misuse of power, Russia has asserted its will to live and choose.

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