Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 187

Russian president Boris Yeltsin has sent his clearest signal yet that he intends to seek reelection in 2000. His press secretary, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, has told the Belgian newspaper Le Soir that Yeltsin has every right under Russia’s 1993 Constitution to seek a fresh term in office. Yeltsin was first elected under the Soviet Constitution and his current mandate is therefore the first in "the new Russia," Yastrzhembsky asserted, meaning that a new mandate in 2000 would not violate the limit of two terms in office set by the 1993 constitution. (NTV, October 7)

There has recently been much speculation that Yeltsin would try to use this constitutional loophole to retain his grip on power. Uncertainty over Yeltsin’s intentions explains why the two men most often tipped as the likely inheritors of his mantle — Boris Nemtsov and Yury Luzhkov — have repeatedly denied that they intend to run for president. Should Yeltsin change his mind, or should the Constitutional Court rule against the loophole, both men might change their tune.

So far, the only politicians to have declared their firm intention of running in 2000 are opposition leaders Grigory Yavlinsky and retired Gen. Aleksandr Lebed. Lebed has already founded his own National Republican Party as the platform for his presidential bid, while Yavlinsky has announced that the Yabloko movement he leads will turn itself into a party soon.

The Communist Party has displayed a lack of confidence in its lackluster leader, Gennady Zyuganov, by officially stating that it will not declare its presidential candidate for "at least a year." The Communists are warily eyeing Gen. Lev Rokhlin’s new Movement for the Support of the Armed Forces. They fear that, should the movement take off, it could split the Communist Party and assume hegemony over the Communist and nationalist opposition.

Uncertainty over Yeltsin’s intentions is likely to hinder further Russia’s transfer to party politics and to keep the country in thrall to the politics of personality. The assertiveness Yeltsin has displayed in recent weeks confirms that, far from fading into a "lame duck" president, Yeltsin retains his charisma and continues to set the political agenda.

Chernomyrdin Presents 1998 Budget to Russian Parliament.