Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 10

News that the Duma’s legal department is to investigate ways of forcing President Boris Yeltsin to step down on health grounds met a mixed reception in Moscow yesterday. Predictably, pro-Yeltsin politicians were against it. Galina Starovoitova of Democratic Russia told an interviewer that Russia could not afford another presidential election now, either financially or in terms of the political upheaval it would entail. (BBC World Service, January 14)

But even the opposition was unenthusiastic. Oleg Rumyantsev said that, while the Communists would be happy to be rid of Yeltsin, they do not want to lose Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. Rumyantsev, who now works as legal adviser to the upper house of the Russian parliament, has been a fierce Yeltsin opponent ever since the 1993 firebombing of the White House. He said yesterday that the Communist-dominated Duma has established a good working relationship with Chernomyrdin, as witness its willingness to approve the draft 1997 federal budget (expected to receive its fourth and final reading on January 24). The Duma is afraid that, if Yeltsin goes, Chernomyrdin would go with him, and Aleksandr Lebed would be elected president. Faced with this choice, Rumyantsev said, the Duma would prefer to retain Yeltsin as a lame duck president. (BBC World Service, January 14)

There is widespread recognition that the constitution needs amendment. Article 92 states that the president leaves office in the event of "prolonged inability to exercise his powers for health reasons," whereupon the prime minister takes charge for three months and an election must be called. But the constitution does not say who decides that the president is unable to exercise his powers. A presidential spokesman tried yesterday to argue that the constitution implies that the president makes the decision, but that is clearly nonsensical. Pursuing his argument that parliament would be happy to lose Yeltsin but wants to keep Chernomyrdin, Rumyantsev yesterday floated the idea of a constitutional amendment that would entrust presidential power to the prime minister for twelve or even eighteen months instead of three. (BBC World Service, January 14) Though this would be an extraordinary solution, it is one that would suit almost everyone except Yeltsin, Lebed (whose election chances are perishable), and Yeltsin’s powerful aide, Anatoly Chubais.

Yeltsin "Improved," Chernomyrdin Due Back from Holiday.