Yeltsin says elections must be held Right to call polls questioned by foes

August 13, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

MOSCOW -- With Russia's political squabbles nearly out of control, President Boris N. Yeltsin declared yesterday that the country absolutely must hold elections this fall to end its chronic crisis -- and if Parliament fails to call them, he will call them himself.

"If Parliament does not take this decision," Mr. Yeltsin told a meeting of Russian media chiefs, "the president will take this decision for them."

Because Mr. Yeltsin does not have the right to call elections, his threat prompted widespread anxiety among lawmakers that the Russian president is once again flirting with the idea of violating the Constitution.

In March, Mr. Yeltsin unleashed full-fledged political panic when he announced on national television that he was imposing emergency rule and setting a national referendum on whether he or lawmakers should govern. Some aides even predicted civil war, but the crisis abated when Mr. Yeltsin backed down.

This time, Mr. Yeltsin appeared to be serving notice once again that he is tired of his endless battles with conservative lawmakers.

Mr. Yeltsin's political arch-enemy, Parliament Speaker Ruslan I. Khasbulatov, told television viewers in a special address that Mr. Yeltsin was preparing a new "provocation" for the last 10 days of August, warning: "You have to be vigilant. We can't let adventurists throw the country into chaos."

The latest confrontation capped several days of recriminations. Mr. Khasbulatov told a gathering of army officers that the Yeltsin administration's policies were designed to serve foreign intelligence agencies. Mr. Yeltsin's spokesman called Mr. Khasbulatov a cockroach and a "maniac."

Mr. Yeltsin's opponents spread rumors that the president, who cut off his vacation July 25 to deal with a surprise ruble reform, was ill. Mr. Yeltsin responded that his opponents ought to have their own health checked -- implying that their mental health was most in doubt.

The bickering between the two branches of power is slowing economic reforms and sowing confusion at home and abroad about who is in control. In a recent interview, former Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev decried the tug-of-war and joined Mr. Yeltsin in calling for elections well before the end of Parliament's scheduled term in 1995.

But no matter how frustrated Mr. Yeltsin gets, he cannot simply call elections under the current constitution. "Yeltsin has no right to do this," said Gennady Gurevich, a legal adviser to the Russian Constitutional Court. "Early elections for Parliament is the prerogative of the Congress."

Mr. Yeltsin's advisers indicated that he might be able to force elections, perhaps by holding a referendum like the one last April in which he gained a strong showing of support. That way, he could claim a popular mandate to dissolve Parliament.

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