Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 197

The Communist faction in the Russian Duma decided yesterday to withdraw the parliamentary vote of no-confidence in the government that it and its nationalist and agrarian allies had been threatening to hold today. It did so after President Boris Yeltsin promised to consult parliament leaders on a regular basis, doubled the amount of airtime given to parliament on state-controlled television and radio, and withdrew his government’s controversial tax code for reworking. The latest confrontation between Yeltsin and the Duma is over. (RTR, October 21)

The opposition is claiming a victory for reason and common-sense, but it emerges considerably weakened from the contest. As soon as the Yabloko faction announced last week that it intended to put forward its own no-confidence motion and would not support the Communist-drafted one, it became doubtful whether the Communists and their allies could win a no-confidence vote. By making conciliatory noises, Yeltsin offered the opposition a dignified way to climb down from what looked increasingly like a no-win situation. The opposition could either have voted no-confidence in the government, in which case Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin said he would immediately resign. That would have opened the way for Yeltsin to dissolve parliament and for a general election in which the Communist party might, at best, lose ground to supporters of more radical leaders such as Aleksandr Lebed, or, at worst, split itself into radical and moderate factions. Or opposition leaders would suffer the humiliation of calling a no-confidence vote and losing it. Yeltsin offered them a dignified way out of this dilemma and they have accepted it gratefully.

In so doing, the Communists have put themselves in Yeltsin’s debt in return for little but airy promises. Yeltsin has promised extraconstitutional consultations which are entirely at his discretion. The "Big Four" and "roundtable" are toothless mechanisms with no constitutional grounds to enforce their decisions. They sideline parliament, strengthen the president still further, undermine the constitution, and slow Russia’s progress toward an accountable democracy. Yeltsin has made it clear all along that he will not part with his unpopular first deputy prime minister, Anatoly Chubais, or change the basic principles of his economic policy. This is not because Yeltsin is fond of Chubais but because, for the present, he has no-one so skillful to do what he wants done. In return for Yeltsin’s concessions, the Communists have had to drop their demand for a much needed change in the constitution to water down the powers of the president. They have also agreed to pass the 1998 federal budget by the end of this year.

Yeltsin’s agreement to withdraw the draft tax code and refer it to a parliament/government conciliation commission is a concession not to the Communists, but to Yabloko. The tax code was drafted in a great hurry and even government sources admit that it could be improved. The Duma had already approved the tax code in the first reading, on June 19, subject to the government’s pledge to revise it. Yeltsin’s promise to recall it removes the ground from Yabloko’s threat to press ahead with its no-confidence vote, while giving the government an opportunity to improve the faults in the draft to which Yabloko has drawn attention.

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