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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Proposal Would Cut Term of Parliament

Russia's new parliament could have its powers sharply curtailed from the day it is elected if a draft document cutting its term in half and exempting President Boris Yeltsin from promised early elections is adopted.

Top advisers to the government said Thursday that an appendix to the draft constitution being prepared for a national referendum on Dec 12 would cut the new Federal Assembly's term from four to two years and entitle Yeltsin to serve out his elected term until 1996.

This would fly in the face of numerous statements from the president that he plans to go through with elections June 12 as he pledged in September.

Interfax quoted Yeltsin on Thursday as saying that the proposed constitution, much of which has been drafted at the president's direction, had now been finalized by a special working group, effectively bypassing the regional leaders who rejected it Wednesday, and was ready for presentation at the referendum.

Viktor Sheinis, a leading reformist figure from the former parliament and a member of Yeltsin's working group on the constitution, said both clauses were in one version of a "transitional position" appendix to the draft charter.

The 1 1/2-page document, which Sheinis gave a 75 percent chance of being adopted, is designed to prolong the authority of certain institutions, putting the new charter into force step by step.

If it were approved Dec 12, the appendix would give Yeltsin a strong argument to say that he had a renewed popular mandate to serve out his term, thus avoiding the early presidential elections he has promised for June 12.

"If the draft of the new constitution is adopted, the problem of holding presidential elections will be removed from the agenda", Mikhail Mityukov, one of Yeltsin's leading legal advisers told The Moscow Times on Thursday.

He gave the June 12 presidential vote a 10 percent chance of going ahead, echoing recent statements from several of Yeltsin's top aides.

A spokesman in the president's press office called reports of the clause that fulfils Yeltsin's term in office "speculation", adding that "the president's position has not changed. The question of early presidential elections will be decided by the Federal Assembly".

The new proposals can be widely interpreted. But they may have been designed as a safety-valve for the president, guaranteeing his powers should the December elections produce another hostile parliament, similar to the old Supreme Soviet. Mityukov said there were also plans to change the new parliament's upper house, the Federation Council, when its two-year term expired. It could then become a body of regional administrators and local governors - presidential appointments.

Yeltsin announced on Sept. 23, two days after he dissolved the White House parliament, that he would run for preterm elections next June. But the date of the polls has been a hot topic of debate ever since.

Several leading politicians, including close Yeltsin ally and First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Shumeiko, have suggested that the president should run together with parliamentary polls Dec. 12.

More recently Yeltsin aides have said the June elections should be postponed. The president's chief of staff, Sergei Filatov, has called the Sept 23 announcement a "compromise made under pressure", suggesting Yeltsin should not be bound to keep his pledge.

Yeltsin himself, who has tried recently to show he is not an authoritarian, has repeatedly said polls will go ahead in June, though the new parliament would have the final word. He repeated that position in an interview with the German magazine Stern, reprinted in the Russian press on Thursday.

Sheinis said he felt ambiguous about postponing the presidential elections. He said he thought preterm presidential polls would be divisive, and would "turn society into either supporters of Yeltsin or opponents of Yeltsin".

But he thought that if the elections were delayed this would give ammunition to Yeltsin's opponents and persuade many people that "the president had made a criminal promise" on Sept. 23.

The fairness of December elections to a 450-member State Duma and 176-member Federation Council is hotly contested by many Yeltsin opponents.