Yeltsin can be ousted, rival says President's move was illegal, court rules TURMOIL IN RUSSIA

March 24, 1993|By Will Englund | Will Englund,Moscow Bureau

MOSCOW -- A high court ruling that found President Boris N Yeltsin to have violated the constitution clears the way for his removal from office, the leader of the Russian legislature said yesterday.

"All the grounds for impeachment are there," said Ruslan I. Khasbulatov, the chairman of the parliament.

But Mr. Khasbulatov, Mr. Yeltsin's chief antagonist in the climactic struggle for power here, did not actually urge impeachment. He said only that the full Congress of People's Deputies should be reconvened to weigh the question.

The smaller, standing parliament -- called the Supreme Soviet -- will consider that step today. If called back into session by the parliament, the congress might meet as early as Friday.

So, as parliament maneuvered yesterday to oust Mr. Yeltsin, and Mr. Yeltsin stuck to his plan to try to eliminate the parliament through a referendum, what came into sharp relief was the extensively improvisational nature of the system here, at a time when Russia's destiny hangs in the balance.

The decision against Mr. Yeltsin in the Constitutional Court, for instance, was reached after an all-night closed session during which the judges argued whether the president had violated Russia's Soviet-era constitution.

There were no arguments or briefs from either the president or the parliament, which had asked for the court ruling; it was reached after the 13 judges debated among themselves.

And they were not debating a document or action; rather they were considering what he had said in a television address Saturday night.

In that speech, Mr. Yeltsin said he was taking on "special powers," and eliminating those of the parliament, until a referendum could be held April 25 to decide Russia's course. He said he was signing decrees to establish his new powers but so far none has been published.

The court went ahead and ruled on them anyway. It said it understood the president's need to bring stability to the country, but not through taking authority away from other branches of government. "The principle of the separation of powers is being wrecked," the court said.

It held that Mr. Yeltsin was free to go ahead with a referendum limited to the question whether people supported him -- a non-binding one, in other words -- but the referendum could not include a question on a new constitution that would do away with the Congress.

Finally, in what appeared to be a compromise, the judges left out any reference to whether the president could be impeached, which was the main question.

Without such a reference, the president's men said later, the case is closed: Mr. Yeltsin stays in office. (They said he would probably ignore the rulings on the referendum, too.) Mr. Khasbulatov chose to read the decision differently.

"The Congress," he said, "must decide the issue of the [lack of] compliance of the president's actions to the constitution."

But the constitution is so vague and sprawling and filled with discrepancies, a group of Yeltsin allies within the parliament, led by Sergei Kovalyov, pointed out, that it is inevitably "violated by all state bodies."

These deputies, members of the parliament's human rights committee, said in a prepared statement that the "attempt to create a Constitutional Court as an independent branch of judicial power has failed."

They pointed out that its chairman, Valery Zorkin, had already characterized Mr. Yeltsin's move as unconstitutional even before the court met, and had refused to take up their own demand to consider the constitutionality of some of the decisions of the Congress.

But even as the various sides were debating the impact of the hastily scripted court finding, Mr. Khasbulatov also engaged in a novel bit of Red-baiting.

For several weeks now, Mr. Yeltsin has been hammering away on the theme that he is pitched in a fight to the death with Communist "revanchists" who want to re-assume their old positions and crush his economic reforms.

He has attacked the Congress as a body elected in 1990, during the days of the Soviet Union, in a vote that was stacked completely in favor of Communist time-servers.

Yesterday, Mr. Khasbulatov said he thought it was time for new elections -- both to the Congress and to the presidency -- and he pointed out that Mr. Yeltsin himself had come to power while Communists held sway.

"But Russia now is another country. Russia is free and sovereign," Mr. Khasbulatov said. Mr. Yeltsin, he seemed to be suggesting, was just another unfortunate holdover from an unlamented time.

"We need new elections," he said (neglecting to mention that Mr. Yeltsin was elected in 1991 on a fervent anti-communist platform).

He also complained about being labeled as anti-reform.

"The deputies and I are in favor of radical reforms," he said. "I was one of the first in favor of private property" -- although the parliament has so far refused to allow it.

Legislators don't like Mr. Yeltsin's economic, foreign-policy or crime-fighting reforms, he said, simply because they don't work.

"They've all gone bankrupt," Mr. Khasbulatov said.

Mr. Yeltsin, who attended his mother's funeral yesterday morning, moved on several fronts later in the day to begin to establish the control he promised in his Saturday speech.

He issued a decree to his cabinet ordering that it require all local officials to follow presidential directives, or be fired.

And Boris Fyodorov, the deputy prime minister, issued what amounts to an ultimatum to the Russian Central Bank, demanding that it tighten the money supply through higher interest rates and a cutback in the issuance of credits. He also demanded that its chairman, Viktor Gerashchenko, be ousted.

The bank, which is controlled by the parliament and not the Cabinet, may be the most important bone of contention in Russia's power struggle. To keep big state-owned factories going, it has issued trillions of rubles in 1993 alone -- against the government's wishes -- fueling high-spirited inflation and ruining any chance to stabilize the ruble.

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