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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

President's Draft Proposal Is No Compromise Deal

President Boris Yeltsin's latest proposal for a truce in his power struggle with parliament speaker, Ruslan Khasbulatov, appears to have no more chance of succeeding than previous cease-fire efforts.


Yeltsin on Thursday made public an offer of a constitutional agreement on the division of powers between president and parliament that appeared to be a compromise.


In fact, it is not.


The president is asking parliament to step back from the fray and allow the cabinet to carry out reforms that most legislators vehemently oppose.


The president would then surrender a right to rule by decree that he used to launch key reforms, but that he no longer really needs.


The president also proposed that the Congress of People's Deputies -- Russians 1, 040-member supreme legislature, convene in March to cancel plans for a referendum on a new constitution and to approve the new deal once Yeltsin and Khasbulatov agree on the details. This is an apparent concession, since Yeltsin originally proposed the idea of a referendum in an effort to get rid of the Congress.


In return, , the legislature would agree to let the cabinet tackle the job of overhauling the ailing Russian economy by giving up some of its powers.


The legislature could do this by giving up its policy-implementing bodies, like the Central Bank, which has often pursued policies directly opposed to those of the government. Or parliament could agree not to issue resolutions that limit or negate the effectiveness of the government's work, such as lawmaker's recent decision to raise pensions despite the cabinet's efforts to reduce the budget deficit.


Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Shakhrai, who discussed Yeltsin's proposal with reporters Wednesday, said that the president and parliament should stop their quarrelling in order to free the government's hands to go ahead with economic reform.


But formulating the problem like this does not tell the whole story.


It is true, that the clash between Yeltsin and the legislature has paralyzed progress on the market reforms launched when the cabinet of former acting Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar freed prices on most goods in the beginning of 1992.


But one of the main reasons for a power struggle in the first place is that the legislature became increasingly hostile to Gaidar's attempts at financial stabilization.


In December, the Congress ousted Gaidar and called for an "anticrisis" program that included such "socially oriented" measures as re-establishing price controls, raising subsidies to state-owned industry and raising pensions.


Lawmakers succeeded in having their candidate, Viktor Chernomyrdin, named prime minister, but his government has so far ignored the Congres's recommendations. This has already raised a protest in parliament, and it seems unlikely that legislators would agree to Yeltsin's proposal to "step back" and let the Chernomyrdin government continue the policies they have already condemned.


Another apparent contradiction of Yeltsin's cease-fire proposal is the stipulation that both president and parliament abide by Russia's existing constitution until a special constitutional assembly adopts a new one. First of all, most legislators are firmly against forming a constitutional assembly.


The second problem is that Russia's existing constitution is another main reason for the president's war with the legislature. It was adopted under Leonid Brezhnev in 1978, and despite hundreds of amendments, still does not adequately define the separation of powers. This has resulted in the development of two, parallel, sets of Russian state bodies -- an executive branch owing its allegiance to Yeltsin, and a legislative branch loyal to the Congress.


Why, then, would Yeltsin ask the Congress to approve his deal with Khasbulatov? One lesson of December is that the speaker cannot always control the Congress.


One lasting impression is that of an exasperated Khasbulatov trying in vain to convince recalcitrant deputies to approve an amendment to the Russian Constitution that would have removed references to the defunct Soviet Union.


Yeltsin has probably considered all this before making his proposal, knowing that deputies would reject it out of hand. One need only look at the fine print of Yeltsin's suggestion.


The deal includes a penalty for either side that violates the agreement. If the president violated it, he would face impeachment. If parliament did, it would be dissolved. If Khasbulatov failed to agree with what Yeltsin was offering, Shakhrai said, the president would go ahead with the planned referendum, and if parliament tried to stop the poll, Yeltsin would "feel completely free in his actions".