With Boris Yeltsin undergoing, in his spokesman’s words, “a course of rehabilitation procedures” at the Barvikha sanatorium outside Moscow, leading Russian politicians began floating various plans to reduce the power of the presidency. Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov called for an immediate conference of representatives from the various branches of power. Its purpose: to discuss various questions, including “the restoration of the country’s stability in the event of the head of state’s pre-term resignation.” Zyuganov said the president should be elected by a constitutional assembly made up of representatives of Russia’s regions and various political forces. Zyuganov’s suggestions were nothing new. Surprising, however, were the comments of former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, known over the last seven years for his loyalty to Yeltsin. Chernomyrdin urged changes in Russia’s constitution which would allow the prime minister to carry out the president’s functions until the end of the presidential term. The constitution calls, in the event the president leaves office early, for the prime minister to serve as head of state for three months–until new presidential elections. This fact, Chernomyrdin said, is creating a “very nervous atmosphere in the country.”
Other leading lights spoke of the need to re-establish, de facto or de jure, the post of vice president. Yeltsin abolished the vice presidency in 1993 after his number two, Aleksandr Rutskoi, led an armed insurrection. Vladimir Lukin, the former ambassador to Washington, who currently heads the State Duma’s foreign affairs committee, said Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov should be given the same powers as a vice president. Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed said that prior to the next presidential elections, which are scheduled for 2000, the constitution should be changed to re-establish the vice presidency. Lebed said that the president should be in charge of foreign policy, domestic strategy and the “power ministries.” The vice president, he continued, should be responsible for the regions, and the prime minister for the economy. Aleksandr Shokhin, head of the Our Home is Russia faction in the Duma, likewise called on Yeltsin to bring back the vice presidency (Russian agencies, October 28).
YELTSIN: DOWN AND OUT, OR ROPE-A-DOPE?