The Speaker of the lower house of the Russian parliament, Gennady Seleznev, said yesterday that he was “categorically opposed” to suggestions that President Yeltsin might run for a third term in 2000. (Itar-Tass, May 14) Seleznev was reacting to a surprise statement by the Speaker of the upper house, Yegor Stroev, who told journalists during a visit to Paris that he believed Yeltsin was likely to seek a third term in office. “I cannot think for Yeltsin, but I think that he will be a candidate in the next presidential elections. I have not been mistaken even once,” Stroev asserted. (Novie izvestiya, May 14)
Stroev acknowledged that Russia’s 1993 constitution allows presidents to serve no more than two terms, but said that “in Russia, a juridical norm can always be found.” He said it would, for example, be possible to use the fact that Yeltsin was elected for the first time in 1991 to argue that a restriction imposed in 1993 did not apply in his case. Yeltsin himself has spoken ambiguously about whether he would run again. He was typically evasive when replying to a question about his intentions during a live Internet exchange on May 12–the ambiguity being neatly reflected in the fact that the English version of his reply implied that he might seek a third term while the Russian version implied that he would not. Thus, in English, he said that he would be president for the last time in 2000, but added “We’ll see,” whereas in Russian he merely stated that “In 2000, I shall be president for the last time.”
Pointing to this discrepancy, the newspaper Russky telegraf commented, “In any case, even if Yeltsin had not said a word about his presidency, his actions speak for themselves. Both in the Russian Foreign Ministry [where Yeltsin spoke on May 12] and on the World Wide Web, Yeltsin behaved not as a lame duck waiting for the end of his term in office, but as a future candidate who is actively creating a new electoral image for himself.” (Russky telegraf, May 13)
Russia’s Constitutional Court has been asked to pronounce on the issue but is not expected to consider it before the fall. Yeltsin was first elected president of Russia in 1991, when it was still part of the USSR. He was reelected in 1996. Unlike other post-Soviet states such as Armenia, Moldova and Ukraine, Russia has yet to change an incumbent president in a democratic election.
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