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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

President Offers to Call Off Referendum

President Boris Yeltsin, declaring that it was time to put an end to "political fistfights", offered Tuesday to cancel a constitutional referendum in April and accept early presidential elections in 1995.


In return for his call for a cease-fire in his battle with the legislature, Yeltsin asked his parliamentary opponents to agree to a compromise on the separation of government powers that would solve the constitutional crisis which has disrupted progress on reform.


Yeltsin told a meeting of Russia's Constitutional Commission that he wanted to appear on television with his arch-rival, parliament speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov, and Constitutional Court chairman Valery Zorkin "to tell the Russian people that we have no disagreements".


The president proposed holding elections in 1995 for the presidency and in 1994 for the legislature -- a year early for both branches.


Khasbulatov last week had called for elections for all public offices in 1994, effectively requesting a vote of confidence in the mandate Yeltsin won when he swept to power in 1991.


In his remarks Tuesday, Yeltsin proposed working out his differences with Khasbulatov in a "reconciliation commission" with representatives of his government, the legislature and the judiciary, the president's press office reported.


"Let's make 1993 the year of a moratorium on all political fistfights", Yeltsin said. "I am personally prepared for dialogue and a search for solutions".


The president made his appeal for peace after an earlier meeting Tuesday in which powerful regional leaders urged him to put off the referendum. Presidential spokesman Vyacheslav Kostikov told journalists during the meeting of heads of Russia's constituent republics that "practically all" of the participants opposed holding the referendum, which Yeltsin had wanted to use to confirm his position as Russia's highest authority.


The regional leaders appealed to Yeltsin to seek a compromise in solving his power struggle with the legislature, which many feared would lead to the regions, Kostikov said.


In a sign of the importance accorded to the talks with the regional authorities, the meeting was attended by top Russian leaders, including Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and Yury Skokov, the powerful secretary of Yeltsin's Security Council.


After the meeting the president agreed to meet with Valery Zorkin of the Constitutional Court, who has proposed a plan that would include placing a moratorium on referendums and changes to the existing constitution until a new legislature is elected.


The one change foreseen in the plan would be the immediate elimination of Russia's 1, 042-member supreme legislature, the Congress of People's Deputies, which has considerably greater powers than the 248-member Supreme Soviet drawn from it.


Such a deal might be acceptable to Yeltsin, who originally proposed the idea of holding a referendum as a way of asserting his authority over the Congress after lawmakers forced him to abandon his acting prime minister, Yegor Gaidar, in December.


Some legislators have also voiced cautious support for Zorkin's proposals.


"I would trade the referendum for a compromise agreement eliminating the Congress and putting a moratorium on all referendums and elections", said moderate lawmaker Viktor Sheinis.


But Yeltsin's rivals for supreme power in the conservative-dominated legislature were wary of any deal that would eliminate the Congress. Khasbulatov has already called on regional lawmakers to support his vision of an all-powerful legislature.


The April referendum was intended to approve the basic principles of a new constitution and set the balance of power between the executive branch of government and the legislature.


Because that balance is poorly defined by Russia's 1978 constitution, a power struggle has broken out between the president and the more conservative legislature obstructing Yeltsin's attempts at market reform.


The conflict intensified after Khasbulatov made a series of harsh attacks last week on Yeltsin's competence to run the country.


The political fighting in Moscow has exacerbated a conflict between regional executive and legislative branches of power. The result has been the creation of two parallel sets of authorities in the provinces, one loyal to Yeltsin, the other to the national legislature and Khasbulatov.


Two autonomous republics have already expressed their intention not to participate in the referendum, and others appear poised to follow.