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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin Considers December Vote on Charter

President Boris Yeltsin is considering a decree to hold a referendum on a new Russian constitution when Russians go to the polls to elect a new parliament Dec. 12, a top presidential aide said Thursday.


Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Shakhrai told reporters that a decree on holding a referendum had been prepared for Yeltsin to sign, a move that would speed up constitutional reform by taking it out of the hands of the new legislature.


Shakhrai said Yeltsin had not yet decided whether to hold the poll, which Itar-Tass, quoting "reliable sources", reported Thursday would ask one question: "Do you agree with the constitution of the Russia Federation or not".


The draft constitution was drawn up in July by the Constitutional Assembly, most of whose members were hand-selected by Yeltsin.


The plan, as laid out by Yeltsin's chief of staff Sergei Filatov this week, would have the new constitution published by Nov. 10, just over a month before the poll.


Yeltsin has spent much of the year trying to get a new charter adopted via his Constitutional Assembly, but was thwarted through September by Russia's disbanded legislature, the Congress of People's Deputies.


The Congress backed the current, Soviet-era constitution, and ignored the Constitutional Assembly when it gave preliminary approval to a draft.


With the old legislature out of the way, Yeltsin wants to press ahead with his plan for political reform, for which a new constitution is critical. The president also appears to be contemplating ways to avoid any further delay by the new legislature.


If a referendum were also held on the planned Dec. 12 election date, it would mean that the new parliament, the two-chamber Federal Assembly, would have no role in the adoption of the new charter.


Shakhrai brushed away the suggestion that this would diminish the new basic law's legitimacy.


"The Russian constitution can be adopted by the parliament or in a national vote", said Shakhrai, a legal expert and one of the authors of the new draft constitution.


The Constitutional Assembly, however, is apparently not ready to reconvene. A session originally scheduled for Friday and Saturday has been postponed for at least a week while Yeltsin's team tries to figure out how to replace the groups in the Assembly representing the national legislature, which has been disbanded, and regional councils, which are being pressured to do so.


Filatov was the first official to propose the idea of holding a referendum and elections simultaneously last week, saying that the Russian economy would be saved 170 billion rubles (about $150 million), the cost of organizing a separate plebiscite.


The issue of whether to hold a referendum adds to an already muddled political picture of what is or is not planned for Dec. 12.


Several top officials have spoken out in favor of holding an early presidential election on that day, prompting Yeltsin to say that he would fire anyone who suggested moving the date for the vote from the date he has set June 12, 1994.


Yeltsin has proposed dissolving all regional and local representative bodies, or Soviets, and holding elections for them on Dec. 12. Shakhrai last week said he would resign if the Soviets were dissolved and elections held on one day.


Shakhrai, who on Thursday said he favored holding staggered local elections between December and March, appears to have won that debate.


On Wednesday, Yeltsin named Shakhrai to head a new commission on reforming local authorities.