Yeltsin sees his nominee voted down Gaidar rejected as prime minister

December 10, 1992|By Will Englund | Will Englund,Moscow Bureau

MOSCOW -- Boris N. Yeltsin, who had consistently manage to stay a half-step ahead of his numerous foes in the Russian Congress of People's Deputies, finally fell short yesterday and saw his nominee for prime minister go down to defeat.

Yegor T. Gaidar, who as acting prime minister has led Russia's far-reaching and risky economic reforms, was denied confirmation in a close vote, 467 in favor to 486 against. He needed 521 votes to be confirmed.

The immediate result is continued political turmoil.

As of now, Mr. Gaidar will remain as acting prime minister, and he could last in that post at least until the next session of the Congress in April.

If that should happen, the 36-year-old economist will be trying to lead a nation through a difficult economic transition without the support of his legislature.

On the other hand, some deputies predict Mr. Yeltsin may try to renominate Mr. Gaidar, as early as today.

pTC Mr. Gaidar himself said the crisis needed to be resolved.

"A government which is constantly battling parliament, and a parliament opposed to a government, is a luxury Russia cannot afford," he said.

President Yeltsin, up to now, has shown a deft political touch. He has plunged ahead with a painful course of reforms in the face of outspoken opposition from entrenched Soviet-era holdovers, and he has generally gotten his way.

But the dominance of the Congress by former Communists, elected to Russia's supreme legislative body in 1990, finally may have become too much for him.

With threats and blandishments, Mr. Yeltsin courted the large, centrist Civic Union bloc before and during this session of the Congress. Its role appeared to be crucial.

Interviews with deputies suggest that in yesterday's secret vote the Civic Union came down on Mr. Gaidar's side -- but he lost anyway, because the hard-core opposition bloc, led by the Russian Unity faction, had grown too strong.

Tuesday, Mr. Yeltsin offered the Congress a late compromise, giving the parliament confirmation powers over four important Cabinet posts in implicit exchange for approving Mr. Gaidar. Yesterday, the Congress accepted the confirmation powers and nonetheless turned down Mr. Gaidar. The result made Mr. Yeltsin look particularly unskilled.

Vladimir Novikov, chairman of a coordinating council of the different factions, said Mr. Yeltsin's offer had been too little and too late. He calculated that it swayed only about 100 of the Congress' 1,040 deputies.

For now, though, there is no alternative to keeping Mr. Gaidar, who said last night, "We shall continue to work."

He said he was not surprised by the results and acknowledged that they probably reflected opinion in the country as a whole.

Several ministers pointed out that the defeat of the confirmation vote might mean less immediate change than if the measure had passed. If Mr. Gaidar had been approved, the compromise proposed by Mr. Yeltsin would have required him to submit four of his Cabinet ministers to the parliament for confirmation as well, which was not likely to be forthcoming.

Now, with the government in stalemate, he won't have to.

But Mr. Gaidar said last night he expected to make some changes in the Cabinet, anyway.

And even if Mr. Gaidar is shunted to one side by Mr. Yeltsin, which is a distinct possibility, the president's allies tried to downplay the significance of yesterday's vote.

"I don't think it's a tragedy or a very dramatic thing," said Igor Malashenko, the new head of Russian television and radio. "History does not end with the change of an acting prime minister. Of course, the path of reforms is going to be affected. But don't oversimplify it. It's not going to be the last days of reform in Russia."

Ruslan Khasbulatov, the speaker of the parliament and a man who enjoys getting in Mr. Yeltsin's hair, also said Mr. Gaidar should stay on.

"He should continue his work," Mr. Khasbulatov said, "learning lessons of course from the great mistakes of the past."

Mr. Gaidar was put in charge of the reform program in January, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the re-emergence of Russia as an independent nation. He became acting prime minister in June.

Conservatives quickly grew unhappy with him as he freed prices and oversaw an almost ruinous inflation and drop in production. Analysts began predicting his downfall almost immediately. But he has stayed in power and even reached the point where there are a few positive signs in the Russian economic landscape.

Mr. Gaidar has never been reluctant to display his intellectual strengths, and this has made him even more unpopular than he might be among the old guard.

His opponents look at the Russian economy today and blame him for all its ills. Millions in Russia dismiss the idea that the Communist regime ran the economy into the ground.

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