After Yeltsin's "Victory: What Next?

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After Yeltsin's "Victory: What Next?

April 29, 1993 4 min read Download Report
Allyson M.

(Archived document, may contain errors)

4/29/93 354


Boris Yeltsin's resounding victory in the April 25 national referendum has finally ended debate over who enjoys the trust and support of the citizens of Russia: Even as they cast their ballots for Yeltsin and the reform- ers, the voters went out of their w ay to make clear their antipathy to the hardline-dominated parliament. Defying predictions in Russia and the West that the electorate would sullenly record its ambivalence or even opposition to Yeltsin and his government, Russians handed their president a victory on each of the four questions posed. Yeltsin's principal task now is to translate his triumph into concrete results by maintaining the political initia- tive-something he failed to do after his heroic stand in the failed coup of August 1991. His p r iorities should be completing the reform of the government structure he inherited from the Soviet Union by implementing a now constitution and replacing the heavily communist parliament with a modern, democratic legislature. Of equal importance is relaunc h ing his economic reform program and removing the many obstacles in the path of a ftu market economy. Despite Yeltsin's victory, however, the political situation in Moscow remains stalemated. Stung by their rejec- tion-three-quarters of the voters called f o r new elections for the legislature-leaders of the parliament, led by its Speaker, Ruslan Khasbulatov, quickly asserted that they would not be bound by the referendum's results and vowed to continue their resistance to democratic and economic reforms. Sai d Khasbulatov, "Even if there is a 100 percent vote of confidence in the president, he does not have the right to make constitutional changes." Khasbulatov and his allies have already announced that yet another "extraordinary" Congress of People's Depu- ti e s-the Soviet-era superparliament-will assemble in an attempt to win back the power that the population had taken from them. For his part, however, Yeltsin is equipped with a new and unambiguous mandate to pursue his reform objec- tives. As the results fro m the referendum make clear, his support extends beyond the young, educated profes- sionals in the urban areas who have most visibly embraced his democratic and free market reforms. Yeltsin's victory was due to the support of the average Russian who, despi t e the great hardships and uncertainty imposed by Russia's severe economic problems, not only rejected the appeals of the hard-liners to turn back the clock but voted to support Yeltsin and his free market reforms as well. New Constitution Needed. Yeltsin m ust now move deliberately and firmly to implement a new and demo- cratic constitution. The current Brezhnev-em constitution, which was adopted in 1978 and since adorned with patchwork of over 200 amendments, is the principal source of political problem s i n Russia, as it was never in- tended to serve as the basic document of an independent, democratic state. The parliament elected under that constitution is dominated by hard-liners opposed to any real political or economic reform, whose resistance has brou g ht Russia to the point of economic collapse. All attempts by Yeltsin to compromise have been rebuffed. With the results of the referendum-which the leaders of the parliament confidently predicted would go gainst Yeltsin-the Russian president need no longe r be deferential to his opponents. He is now in a position to set his own conditions. lEs approach should be twofold, a combination of olive branch and club: The parlia- ment should be invited to cooperate in the adoption of a new constitution this summer, followed by elections

this1k Conversely, should cooperation not 'be fort&omm''g, the parliament should be bypassed altogether by a directlappeal to the population through another referendum or the election of a constituent assembly. Yeltsin's chances ar e aided by the fact that the parliament i's hot monolithic. To add to his minority support in it Yeltsin should attempt to split the "moderates" from his most bitter opponents. Wary of their own political fu- @r;s, this group is likely to have lost much o f their enthusiasm in opposing Yeltsin in the aftermath of the reier- endum. Because much of the opposition to reform in the parliament stems from members rightly fearing a loss of their position and privileges if new elections are held, Yeltsin should swe e ten the deal by offering to continue these perks until next spring when the members' current terms would have ended. At the same time, Yeltsiri should press ahead with his economic reforms. Again, parliament should first be asked for its cooperation but s h ould be pushed aside if its obstruction continues. Yeltsin should introduce a broad program of hitherto blocked reforms, including private ownership of land and an acceleration of the estab- lishment -of private farming. Executive branch control over the C entral Bank should be established and its infla- tionarypolicies ended immediately. Privatization should be accelerated. The U.S. Role. Yeltsin's triumph is also a victory for the U.S. and the West. Not only have the people of. Rus- sla definitively demon s trated their support for Yeltsin and his reforms, they have at the same time rejected those such as Khasbulatov and Vice President Aleksandr Rutskoi who oppose cooperation with the West and advo- cate a more aggressive, imperialist policy toward Russia's n eighbors. The view of Yeltsin as a transitional figure inherit'ed from the Bush Administration must now be firmlyre- jected, and President Clinton must reiterate his support not just for Yeltsin but also for his efforts to implement a new constitution. As important, the U.S. must ensure that any assistance that it and the West provide to Russia be fmnly tied to progress in establishing a fi-ee market economy. These conditions are not intended to punish or pressure Yeltsin but instead to equip him with weap o ns to.us6 against. his opponents, whose resistance to reform will only. result -in a cut-off of Western assistance. In addition, the U.S. should lead its Western allies in opening their markets to exports from Russia and the other countries of the former S oviet bloc, allowing these newly free nations to earn their money rather than receive it in aid. By defying their detractors in Russia and the West, Yeltsin and the Russian people have clearly demonstrated that they are determined that Russia become a dem ocracy and will not turn back from the goal of a. free market. Few events hold such promise for the U.S. and the West, and it is their responsibility to ensure that Russia's re- entry into the civilized world be welcomed with open arms.

Ariel Cohei. 'Salvatori Fellow in Russianand Eurasian Studies



Allyson M.