President Yeltsin has reiterated his determination not to allow this week’s conflict to derail his government. Making his weekly radio address to the nation this morning, Yeltsin reassured listeners that political infighting would not lead to instability. Russia, Yeltsin assured them, now has a political system that allow passions "to seethe but not to boil over." (BBC, October 17)
The institution most damaged by the events of the past week is likely, however, to be the Duma, and it is questionable whether political stability is enhanced by the further weakening of Russia’s constitutionally weak parliament. By insisting that the Kremlin set up a range of extra-parliamentary consultation mechanisms, Duma leaders have once again underlined that (1) the president (when healthy) is the only actor who really counts on Russia’s political stage; (2) access to the president is the only effective form of political currency; and (3) the Duma is out of the loop. The fact that the Communist speakers of the two houses of parliament have been assigned a role in the "Group of Four" is unlikely to change this situation. In light of the underdevelopment of Russia’s system of political parties, the two men can be easily coopted by the Kremlin.
If the Duma is concerned, as clearly it is, about its lack of access to the president, setting up extraconstitutional bodies is not the way to bolster its position. For that, constitutional reform is urgently needed. However, the Russian constitution is notoriously difficult to amend and Yeltsin has so far resisted all efforts in this direction. Since he returned to health in March, no attempt has been made to plug the constitutional gap that appeared during Yeltsin’s sickness at the beginning of the year, when it became apparent that the constitution contains no mechanism for replacing a president too sick to govern. Serious efforts to change the constitutional imbalance between executive and legislature seem to be ruled out in the present climate.
Interior Minister Calls for New Powers in Struggle Against Mafia.