Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 97

The Communist Party and the People’s Power and Agrarian parliamentary factions intend to start collecting signatures in support of impeaching President Boris Yeltsin, Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov announced yesterday. He said the decision was made by the People’s Patriotic Union (PPU), the opposition coalition, at a meeting earlier in the day. The PPU supported an appeal by miners in the Kuzbass, who called on the left-wing opposition to initiate impeachment proceedings against Yeltsin on the grounds that he had “destroyed the country and its economy,” Zyuganov said. Miners in several parts of Russia have been on strike for over a week over wage arrears. Zyuganov said the precise charges to be leveled against Yeltsin will be announced today. (Source, May 19)

Viktor Ilyukhin, the radical communist chairman of the Duma’s Security Committee, and Defense Committee Chairman Lev Rokhlin have been trying to get Yeltsin impeached for a long time though there has never been much support for the move. Russia’s 1993 constitution does not make it easy to impeach the president. It requires a minimum of 150 signatures of Duma deputies, and the president must be charged with treason or a serious felony. The Duma then sets up a commission to consider the charges, which are then referred back to the Duma for vote. If at least two-thirds of Duma deputies uphold the committee’s recommendations, and the Supreme Court confirms the charges, and the Constitutional Court confirms that the established procedure for filing the charge has been followed, then the Federation Council can impeach the president by a two-thirds majority. The constitution adds that the Duma may not be dissolved while impeachment charges are pending.

Since the constitution sets no time limit on how long the Duma commission should consider the charges, there is nothing to prevent the process from being spun out more or less indefinitely. It seems likely that what the opposition really wants at present is to prevent any attempt by Yeltsin to dissolve parliament. The Duma is due to be reelected in December 1999. Last weekend, the Governor of Leningrad Oblast called for the elections to be brought forward to the spring of 1999. Otherwise, he said, decisions of great national importance will be held up by campaigning and Russia will enter the year 2000 without a federal budget. (See Monitor, May 18)

A presidential election is still two years away but election fever is already gripping the country. Getting Duma elections out of the way early could help Russia tackle its serious economic tasks. How desperate the Duma is to avoid dissolution, however, was clear from the way it finally–grudgingly–approved Yeltsin’s choice of Sergei Kirienko as prime minister. It seems likely, therefore, that the Duma’s present threat to impeach the president is intended as a weapon to defend the Duma against dissolution. The proceedings are likely to be dragged out and, as long as the weapon serves its deterrent purpose, it is unlikely actually to be used.