Yeltsin issues plea for unity 'Let us not divide into the victorious and the vanquished'

Chernomyrdin reappointed

Questions arise over possible roles for Lebed, opposition

July 05, 1996|By Clara Germani | Clara Germani,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

MOSCOW -- After his decisive re-election yesterday, President Boris N. Yeltsin made a televised address to the nation -- in what appeared to be much-improved health -- pleading for national reconciliation.

"Let us not divide the country into the victorious and the vanquished," the 65-year-old president said after nearly complete vote tallies showed that he had won 53.7 percent of the vote to rival Communist Gennady A. Zyuganov's 40.4 percent.

After his unsettling disappearance from public during the final, critical week of the presidential campaign, Yeltsin appeared back at work yesterday in the Kremlin.

In his television appearance, he was less wooden and puffy than he had been in a taped address to the nation Monday that had raised concerns that he might be suffering a relapse of last year's heart problems instead of the cold that his aides claimed he had.

Yeltsin reappointed Viktor S. Chernomyrdin as prime minister yesterday and asked him to form a new government. The constitution requires that the government step down upon the election of a new president and that the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, approve the president's selections for prime minister and the Cabinet.

The Duma is dominated by Yeltsin's Communist and conservative opponents, but its chairman has indicated that the legislature would not try to oppose Yeltsin's choice. Zyuganov, a parliament member and leader of the Communists, will be an important player in negotiations with the Kremlin on a new government.

Yeltsin and Chernomyrdin hinted that there might be a role in government for the defeated opposition.

At a news conference yesterday, Zyuganov claimed that his bloc had emerged as the "undisputed spiritual leader" of Russian society and vowed that its position would only grow stronger. He announced plans to unify and strengthen the coalition, so it could take its place in what he described as the two-party system forming in Russia.

The reappointment of Chernomyrdin -- who for four years has been the respected steward of Yeltsin's economic reforms and has close ties to the financially powerful state fuel and energy sector -- suggests that no drastic changes will follow, said Ludmila Telen, political editor of the weekly Moscow News.

But she said she expects political fireworks to erupt when the question arises of what role Alexander I. Lebed will play in the new government.

The retired general has made fascinating political theater since he won a 15 percent share of the vote in the first round of the presidential election. Yeltsin swept away his most devoted hard-line aides -- including his best friend and bodyguard, Alexander Korzhakov -- in order to draft the tough-talking nationalist into the top national security post in the Kremlin.

Then, in the critical week before the election, the Kremlin unleashed Lebed, a highly popular political neophyte with a loose lip. He called for creation of a vice-presidential post for himself, saying national security could be construed to include economic and social spheres; referred to Mormon missionaries as "scum"; and made anti-Semitic remarks in order to lure his 10 million supporters to the Yeltsin camp.

Chernomyrdin said yesterday that he didn't know what Lebed was talking about, and that much of what Lebed appeared to be proposing as a broadened role for himself did not fall within the law.

Giorgy Satarov, a top Yeltsin campaign aide, fairly snarled yesterday when asked if the Kremlin had approved what Lebed was proposing. "Ask Mr. Lebed," he snapped.

Exactly what role the Kremlin plans for Lebed is not clear. But since Tuesday, there have been none of the near-daily press conferences such as he held in the run-up to the election.

Telen said the Kremlin plan appeared to be to dangle Lebed before his voters and reel them in. But what to do with the bait after the catch is a real problem, she said.

Because the Security Council's work is mandated just by presidential decree, Lebed has said he will draft legislation clarifying the council's status and power, she said.

"What authority Lebed gets will be very telling. We know that he demands control over the power [military, law and order] ministries," she said. "We also know he wants the Security Council to have considerable influence over our lives in the economic and cultural spheres.

"I doubt Mr. Yeltsin is going to issue a decree giving him that power," she said.

A Lebed showdown with the Kremlin power structure will likely occur as a new government is named; constitutionally, that must happen within two weeks of Yeltsin's Aug. 9 swearing in, Telen said.

While he commands respect among the military and the electorate, Lebed does not have a political network to help negotiate Kremlin intrigue. One Security Council employee, who asked not to be named, said Lebed is a puzzle to professionals there. He showed up without a single personal aide and no portfolio of plans for his job.

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