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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin Takes Power Struggle to the People

President Boris Yeltsin on Thursday appealed to the Russian people to support his efforts to end a power struggle with the legislature, and urged the nation "to come out to the polls" to back him in a national referendum in the event that negotiations with parliamentary leaders broke down.


In a 16-minute address broadcast on national television, the president told viewers of his proposal, presented to legislators on Wednesday, for ending a disruptive impasse with the parliament and its speaker, Ruslan Khasbulatov.


"I am sure that everyone is tired of the conflict between organs of power of Russia", Yeltsin said in the pre-taped address. "It is difficult in these conditions to talk about bring order, strengthening law and personal safety".


Under the terms of the deal, both president and parliament would agree not to interfere in each other's work for 1993, which Yeltsin has suggested declaring "the year of the economy".


Parliamentary leaders responded skeptically Thursday to the Yeltsin plan, indicating that a compromise is still far away.


"There is no constitutional crisis in the country", said Mikhail Astafyev, a leader of parliament's conservative Unity faction. "The problem is that the president does not want to abide by a constitution he swore to uphold".


In his address, Yeltsin acknowledged that citizens had wearied of the conflict between the executive and legislative branches, which has paralyzed progress on combatting hyperinflation, growing social unrest, and crime.


Yeltsin looked relaxed and casual in a cardigan sweater during the speech, which was taped at his vacation home in a Moscow suburb, where Yeltsin is taking a 12-day break from the Kremlin.


The president said that an agreement with the parliament was one of two ways to resolve the current constitutional crisis. But Yeltsin, hinting at the long-standing bad faith between him and Khasbulatov, said that previous power-sharing proposals with the parliament had always been turned down.


The threat of a referendum, scheduled for April 11, had been the only way to force legislators to discuss such a constitutional agreement.


"For this reason, preparations for a referendum are today a sort of guarantee that the negotiations will proceed", Yeltsin said. "If negotiations fail, we have one constitutional way left to resolve the power crisis. In that case, I especially appeal to you, respected Russians, to come out to the polls".


Yeltsin originally called for a referendum, which would decide the separation of powers, in an angry speech last December, after the conservative-dominated legislature had forced him to abandon his reformist cabinet head, Yegor Gaidar.


But the idea of holding a referendum has enjoyed little popular support in Russia's outlying regions, and many of the country's leaders believe that a low turnout would lead to a power vacuum and possibly a Soviet-style breakup.


This possibility led Yeltsin to make his current proposal to suspend the referendum if both executive and legislative branches agreed to relinquish some of their powers in order to free the cabinet to carry out its economic reform program without political interference.


Parliament would be asked to give up its control of the Central Bank, the Foreign Trade Bank, and the pension fund, for example. The heads of these organizations would then become members of the cabinet.


The president would agree not to "interfere with the prerogatives of the legislative branch, and to guarantee observance of the constitutional principle of the division of powers", according to the proposal.


But because the existing Brezhnev-era constitution contradicts itself on Russia's division of powers, it is not clear what Yeltsin's obligations to the parliament would be.


Both president and parliament would agree to a moratorium on changes to Russia's existing constitution until a Constitutional Assembly was elected that would adopt a new charter.


The deal also includes a stiff penalty -- if the president violated it, he would be forced to resign, and if parliament reneged on the deal, Yeltsin would have the right to disband it.


Under the terms of an agreement worked out between Yeltsin and Khasbulatov last week, parliament's leaders now will present a proposal of their own.


Then, the sides will try to work the two proposals into one "constitutional accord" that Congress of Peoples Deputies, Russia's highest legislature, would approve at a special one-day session in early March.


Khasbulatov's team was expected to present parliament's proposal on Friday.