State Duma again rejects Yeltsin pick Chernomyrdin fumes, Russia left reeling by unmanaged crisis

Top banker steps down

Stand-off could lead president to dissolve parliament, call vote

September 08, 1998|By Kathy Lally | Kathy Lally,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

MOSCOW SUN STAFF WRITER WILL ENGLUND CONTRIBUTED TO THIS ARTICLE. — MOSCOW -- With more obstinacy than passion, Russia's lower house of parliament again rejected Boris N. Yeltsin's choice of a prime minister yesterday, daring the president to move the confrontation ahead another, more dangerous step.

"The worse, the better is their motto," acting Prime Minister Viktor S. Chernomyrdin told reporters after the 273-138 vote against him in the State Duma. "Nobody is interested in attending to the crisis."

As the Communist-led Duma and Yelstin fought, the ruble fell yet again, prices rose even higher, frightened depositors withdrew whatever money their banks would give them and Russia entered its third week without a government to take charge of a collapsed financial system.

The banking meltdown claimed a senior-level casualty as Sergei Dubinin stepped down as chairman of Russia's central bank. He should have done it earlier, Yeltsin said through his spokesman.

"Today, nobody supports us," said Dubinin's deputy, Sergei Aleksashenko, named as acting chairman.

The public, displaying more foreboding than panic, kept shopping, trying to buy what's available before prices pushed everything out of reach. People were preparing for things to get worse.

If Yeltsin nominates Chernomyrdin a third time, and the Duma rejects him yet again, the president has the authority to dissolve the Duma and order new elections within three months, ruling by decree in the interim.

Speculation abounds that he might postpone elections indefinitely, or that the Duma might refuse to go, creating the kind of stand-off that was resolved with bloodshed in 1993 when Yeltsin sent tanks to resolve a dispute with a former parliament.

Rejecting Chernomyrdin as prime minister, the liberal Yabloko faction proposed a startling compromise: Yevgeny M. Primakov, career Soviet diplomat and foreign minister since 1996.

Yeltsin did not say yesterday whether he would consider Primakov, or nominate Chernomyrdin a third time.

Though Chernomyrdin had appeared on television Sunday night, full of fight and warning of fascism if he was rejected, he was subdued when he argued his case before the Duma yesterday.

"The main thing is to prevent things from getting still worse," he said, sounding as if he were already defeated.

He offered broad proposals: reducing income taxes and taxes on profits, printing more money to pay back pensions and wages, then introducing a tough system of financial restraint similar to one Argentina used to restore financial order. Leaders of the Duma factions refused to take any of it seriously.

Rejecting ideas

"All he's doing, he's doing for himself, not for the country," said Gennady A. Zyuganov, who led the Communists in voting against Chernomyrdin. "They want us to dance an Argentine tango, but we're not going to dance with you."

Another deputy mocked the idea of reducing taxes when no one was making any money to tax. And Grigory A. Yavlinsky, the leader of the Yabloko faction, said Chernomyrdin's proposals would only make things worse.

"It's like putting out a fire with the help of gasoline," he said.

Chernomyrdin, fired and recalled by Yeltsin over six months, is accused by his foes of being responsible for many of Russia's economic problems. Still, Chernomyrdin, who lost 253 to 94 in the first vote, had made some converts. Vladimir V. Zhirinovsky, the ultranationalist, switched sides and delivered his party's votes. But it wasn't enough. Most deputies were not afraid, at least not yet.

Yavlinsky urged Yeltsin to seek compromise by appointing a prime minister who had authority, international respect and no desire to build a power base for a later run for the presidency. "There is such a person," he said. "He is Yevgeny Primakov."

Primakov, 68, has no party affiliation and no clear ideology, other than strongly defending Russia's interests abroad.

'Primakov more suitable'

"I hope the candidacy of Chernomyrdin is less important for the president than the destiny of Russia," said Vladimir P. Lukin, a Yabloko deputy and former ambassador to the United States. "We consider Primakov more suitable."

Sergei A. Kovalyov, an independent deputy and a dissident during the Soviet years, said he would never vote for Primakov, though he predicted many Communists would.

"What is Primakov?" Kovalyov said. "He's a normal Soviet career diplomat, half spy and half diplomat. But, of course, he's pragmatic."

Out on the streets, people were taking care of themselves, methodically emptying store shelves. Their faces were serious, sad even, but purposeful and calm.

Yelena Slivkina left her apartment in the morning and headed for the Svoboda (Freedom) cosmetics factory, figuring she could lay in some soap and makeup at the store attached to the plant.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.