President Boris Yeltsin spent three hours at his desk in the Kremlin yesterday, after which he obeyed his doctors’ orders and returned to the Barvikha sanitarium. The doctors have advised Yeltsin to rest until the New Year, but his spokesman, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, said yesterday that the president will be "very busy" from now until year’s end. At the top of Yeltsin’s agenda is the much-hyped roundtable on land reform between the president and parliamentary leaders now scheduled for December 26. (RTR, December 23)
Yastrzhembsky said the Duma could play its part in creating an atmosphere of trust prior to the roundtable by passing next year’s draft federal budget, which it is due to debate today in the second reading (see accompanying article) and by making the changes Yeltsin has requested to Russia’s new constitutional law on government. In an unusually trusting gesture, Yeltsin signed the bill into law on the basis of a "gentleman’s agreement" with Speaker Gennady Seleznev that the Duma would amend the bill — which increases parliamentary oversight of the executive — to ensure that the president retains direct control of the "power ministries" (Defense, Security, Justice, Internal Affairs) and the Foreign Ministry.
The bill breaks new constitutional ground by granting the State Duma the right to approve the president’s nominations not only, as under the 1993 constitution, for prime minister, but also for first deputy premier and other cabinet posts. Yeltsin had repeatedly refused to sign the bill into law, prompting the Duma to appeal to the Constitutional Court. Komsomolskaya pravda commented over the weekend that Yeltsin seems at long last to be finding "a civilized language" with which to conduct a dialogue with the Duma. (Komsomolskaya pravda, December 20) Yeltsin’s relations with the pragmatic Seleznev have warmed noticeably in recent weeks. Yeltsin clearly finds the former editor of Pravda a great deal easier to get along with than he does the official leader of the Duma’s Communist faction, Gennady Zyuganov. (Nezavisimaya gazeta, December 19)
Yeltsin Calls for Changes to Electoral Law.