Publication: Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 130

What would happen if Boris Yeltsin were to become seriously ill today ? If he was unable to take part in the runoff against Gennady Zyuganov, the election would be postponed and Yeltsin’s place would be taken by Aleksandr Lebed as the candidate who placed third in the first round. But things would become more complicated if Yeltsin was to be elected tomorrow, and only then became too sick to assume office. The constitution states that, if an incumbent president is unable to execute his duties, the prime minister temporarily takes his place and organizes fresh presidential elections within three months. However, a newly elected president must be sworn in within 30 days of the publication of the official election results. (In the case of the current runoff, officials have been saying that August 6 is the most likely date for the inauguration.) The constitution does not say what happens if a president-elect becomes incapacitated before he is sworn in. Even more complicated, the constitution requires the prime minister to tender his resignation to the new president, but does not say who takes over the reins if the president becomes incapacitated before he has named a new prime minister and had him approved by parliament.

Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin would doubtless argue that the prime minister’s duty to act as caretaker of the nation outweighed his obligation to resign, but he would be on uncertain ground and might well be challenged by Aleksandr Lebed, who in recent days has claimed broad responsibilities for national security that so far have no legal basis. A stand-off between premier and national security czar would likely be won by the man who commanded the loyalty of the armed forces. Lebed might well consider that he was that man and that conviction could prompt him to make the bid for supreme power. Much criticized as Yeltsin’s democratic record has been, he has generally been credited with having tried to introduce some degree of order into the Kremlin’s traditionally murky way of transferring power. The present frailty of Yeltsin’s health underlines the frailty of the Russia’s fledgling democratic institutions and reveals how close to the surface the skeletons of Kremlin dictators lie.

Authorship of National Security Document Debated.