Russia Needs a New Parliament


August 18, 1993|By CLIFFORD KUPCHAN

Russian President Boris Yeltsin's demand last week for early elections for a new parliament is most welcome, because Russia's current parliament is a relic of the past. Having just spent three weeks in the Russian parliament on a congressional exchange program, I am convinced that the future of reform in Russia depends on the election of a new legislature.

The members of the Russian parliament, the Congress of Peoples' Deputies, were elected when the Communist Party was still dominant. Indeed, well-known figures from Russia's communist past still line up every noon at the Congress' cafeteria to avail themselves of some of Moscow's best food -- at minimal cost.

The role of the congress in Russian politics clearly reflects its anachronistic character. The Congress of Peoples' Deputies currently contains 14 factions. Eleven of them -- at least 80 percent of the deputies -- oppose the policies of the Yeltsin government. While not all opponents of Mr. Yeltsin are opponents of free-market democracy, most of Mr. Yeltsin's foes in the Russian parliament do not support reform.

The congress has impeded reform at every turn. It has resisted the adoption of a new constitution, resisted privatization and directed the Russian central bank to fuel a dangerous inflation. Procedurally, the Russian parliament is clearly not a professional body. The conservative, power-hungry (and now weakened) speaker, Ruslan Khasbulatov, has largely been able to dictate committee structure and floor procedure. Staffing and access to information is far below the norm for democratic parliaments.

In stark contrast so the congress, Russian society is hurtling forward. On the streets of Moscow, there is a palpable sense that markets and entrepreneurial spirit have taken firm root. Privatization, under the leadership of Anatoly Chubais and Dimitri Vasiliev, is moving forward at a remakable pace. New political parties are sprouting to represent constituencies with a stake in market economics, and a new generation of Russian leaders is emerging.

The key task facing the Yeltsin camp is to organize political parties that represent market constituencies, and then to push through elections for a new parliament that will include these parties. Close Yeltsin aide Sergei Shakhrai is forming one such party, as is Yeltsin associate Gennadii Burbulis. Parliamentarian Pytor Filippov, now working in Mr. Yeltsin's administration, leads the pro-business Republican Party. Yeltsin supporters must focus on preparing these parties to compete effectively in new legislative elections.

The United States can and should help in the political organizing that is necessary to the success of the reformers. Both the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute are currently active in party organizing. A debate is going on as to whether these groups should stress process and assist a wide range of parties, or only assist those that truly support market values. We clearly must pay attention to process. But at this pivotal juncture in Russian history, we must also nurture the development of market-oriented democratic tTC parties. That means supporting parties parties like those of Mr. Filippov and Mr. Shakhrai.

Moreover, for political as well as economic reasons, the U.S. should emphasize assistance in the process of privatization. Privatization will not only enhance economic performance but also increase the number of Russians with a stake in Russian capitalism. This constituency will send like-minded representatives to the new parliament.

Critics argue that the new parliament may well be no better than the present one. They argue that the Mafia, an unfortunate by-product of Russia's emerging capitalism, will be over-represented. They also fear Russian nationalism will be a powerful force, and that conservative regions will return the same conservative managers to the new government. There is some truth in these arguments, but they miss an essential point: Privatization and market-formation already have tremendous momentum in Russia. A new parliament will be a more constructive body in the process of economic reform.

The Congress of Peoples' Deputies has impeded Russia's transformation to market-oriented democracy. The Yeltsin camp must now press for a new parliament that will be a partner in creating a new Russia.

Clifford Kupchan is an adviser on Russian affairs to Rep. Harry Johnston of Florida. He recently returned from a U.S.-Russian exchange program sponsored by the American Foreign Policy Council.

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