Yeltsin orders reorganization of Cabinet on 1-week deadline New government likely to be packed with radical market reformers

March 12, 1997|By Clara Germani | Clara Germani,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

MOSCOW -- Continuing to reassert a strong grip on power after months of illness, President Boris N. Yeltsin ordered a drastic reorganization of his entire government yesterday in an attempt to push Russia out of its economic and social difficulties.

Yeltsin gave Prime Minister Viktor S. Chernomyrdin and his new first deputy, Anatoly B. Chubais, a week to form a new Cabinet.

The new government is expected to be heavily loaded with radical market reformers such as Chubais, the young capitalist who spearheaded Russia's privatization program, only to be fired and then brought back to engineer Yeltsin's come-from-behind re-election victory in July.

Yeltsin was following up on his promise in a state of the nation address to Parliament last Thursday to reorganize the government, bringing in new "competent and energetic" people.

The new government is likely to have fewer ministers and ministries. Yeltsin's order yesterday said there would be only one first deputy prime minister instead of four and the number of deputy prime ministers and Cabinet members also would be reduced.

Yeltsin also named Valentin Yumashev, an aide who helped him write two books of memoirs, to fill Chubais' old job as head of Kremlin administration.

Chubais' appointment to the Cabinet is widely seen as an attempt to bring better management to a government that has left millions of pensioners and workers without income, has failed to collect taxes, and has failed to restructure the old and unprofitable Soviet industrial system.

Yeltsin's elevation of Chubais on Friday from presidential chief of staff to the No. 2 post in Chernomyrdin's government and his order yesterday for a housecleaning are the strongest evidence yet of his attempt to come to grips with Kremlin disorganization and serious policy reform.

"We're seeing the beginning of Yeltsin's second term in office -- it is in fact the first time he's come to power since his re-election [in July]," said Sergei Kolmakov, an analyst with the Polity Foundation. What Yeltsin has done, he said, "is an attempt to make government more effective according to liberal norms."

Also, it is an attempt to meet the demands of the International JTC Monetary Fund for stricter budget controls. The IMF has stalled on paying portions of a $10 billion loan because Russia has failed to meet budget deficit targets.

While Yeltsin's moves generally have met with approval by democratic parties -- some of which may yet have their own representatives in the new Cabinet -- opposition was heating up.

The harsh results of the economic reforms advanced by Chubais made him so unpopular in the first Yeltsin government that Yeltsin fired him early in 1996 when he faced a serious re-election challenge from the Communists.

Opponents in Parliament ratcheted up their criticism of the Yeltsin government, causing some analysts to predict a showdown in which Yeltsin could dissolve the lower house of Parliament and call new elections.

But, said Lyudmilla Telen, political editor of the widely read Moscow Times, "Chubais' move signals that Yeltsin is shifting the political center from the presidency to the government."

With millions of workers and pensioners still many months behind in receiving pay and benefits, Yeltsin is probably trying to head off what could be a major social upheaval, she said.

"He no longer needs to take the populist line he did in the elections; he knows the economic situation is so difficult that resolute measures are necessary," she said.

Pub Date: 3/12/97

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