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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin Acts to Dispel Despotic Image

President Boris Yeltsin on Tuesday reaffirmed his support for a Western-style division of state powers, seeking to dispel criticism that he is trying to impose an authoritarian regime on Russia.


In a speech to his cabinet inside the Kremlin, Yeltsin voiced concern that unnamed aides in his administration were taking advantage of the executive branch's unchecked authority to push the government toward "extremist measures".


"I am worried by the draft decrees people put on my table, many of which have nothing to do with the direction of reforms and push the authorities toward extremist measures", Interfax quoted Yeltsin as telling a cabinet meeting expanded to include regional leaders.


"I am surprised that certain officials cast doubt over the principle of the separation of powers", Yeltsin said. "This principle was and remains for us the most important".


Yeltsin's speech came on the same day that he was presented with a new draft constitution that would greatly expand the president's powers at the expense of the future legislature.


This came after a month in which Yeltsin's government has routed the hardline parliament after an armed rebellion, closed opposition newspapers, cracked down on independent-minded regions and called elections to a new parliament.


These tough actions have drawn some sharp criticism. On Tuesday, the economist Grigory Yavlinsky questioned Yeltsin's commitment to an independent legislature.


"Why are we organizing a new parliament and elections if certain committees of academicians have already written a constitution? " said Yavlinsky, referring to the small working groups Yeltsin has used to draft a new charter with strong presidential powers.


"We have a situation where all the decisions are being made by one person and there is no state body that can stop him. This is an authoritarian regime", said Yavlinsky, a market economist who is campaigning for the new parliament as the head of his own political bloc.


A Western diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity, indicated that suspicions about Yeltsin's intentions were shared by more than just his political opponents.


"There has been a feeling among a lot of people that these elections and the new parliament don't really matter. Ultimately, there is one guy who is the president and the government", the diplomat said.


"Yeltsin should dispel this image", he said, but added that he believed the next parliament would be a transitional one.


The president said Tuesday that his government had been forced to take "harsh measures" to eradicate the dangers posed by the former parliament and the leaders of last month's rebellion.


But Yeltsin said that he remained committed to a system in which each branch of power - the executive, the legislative and the judicial - was guaranteed independence.


Yeltsin's chief of staff, Sergei Filatov, said that the president had received the latest draft of the new constitution, Interfax reported Tuesday.


But the latest set of changes - and the way they were adopted - have raised doubts about the separation of powers in the new Russia.


Yeltsin's Constitutional Assembly has approved a draft clause that gives the president the last word in hiring and firing his prime minister and government, giving the parliament a nominal role in approving the government.


The new draft also lacks a provision allowing the new parliament's lower chamber, the State Duma, to impeach the president for violations of the constitution. It also allows the president to dismiss the Duma if it persists in rejecting his ministerial candidates.


On Wednesday, Yeltsin is due to meet heads of Russia's republics and regions to discuss the new constitution. If all goes well, the final version will be publicized Nov. 12, Filatov said. On Dec. 12, voters will be asked to approve the draft in a referendum.


Leaders of the 89 regions and republics have balked at earlier attempts to push through a new constitution. But Yeltsin aides have hinted privately that the president will ignore protests from restive regional leaders who see their independence limited by the new draft.


The powers that the new draft would give the president are made all the more ominous by the method being used to adopt it. The Constitutional Assembly, which once numbered over 700, has shrunk. Changes have been discussed by only one of its two chambers, of which only 40 members were present when it approved the latest amendments.