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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

President Walks Out, Plans Vote

President Boris Yeltsin stormed out of the Congress of People's Deputies on Friday, making a clear break with the country's legislature and putting wheels in motion for a referendum to end Russia's power struggle once and for all.


"The president will not speak to the Congress any longer, only to the people of Russia", said Yeltsin spokesman Vyacheslav Kostikov, indicating that nearly a year of protracted negotiations to reach a living arrangement with the legislature has now come to a close.


The president stood up and left the hall after legislators ignored his appeals and warnings, passing a resolution that seriously weakens Russia's presidency.


"We are not talking about a redistribution of power, but an attempt by the legislature to take control of the government", said Radical Democrat Pyotr Filipov.


The Congress voted 495-326 to reject Yeltsin's request not to include a crucial and provocative clause in the resolution. The president immediately walked out with his top aides.


The offending clause would annul a deal made at the end of the last Congress, thus exposing Yeltsin to impeachment and giving the legislature the power to veto his decrees. The entire resolution was later adopted by a vote of 656 to 184.


"The smooth reformist period has ended", Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Shakhrai told journalists. "The Congress has led the country to the threshold beyond which lies the path to revolution, street rule and chaos".


Friday's drama inside the Great Kremlin Palace formed the climax to a protracted stage in the struggle to define what political and economic systems the new Russia will adopt. The fight has clearly taken its toll on the president, who rambled and stumbled in his speech.


Advantage in the battle has passed from Yeltsin, when in the aftermath of the August 1991 coup he enjoyed overwhelming popularity, to the Congress which is favored by Russia's 1978 Constitution. Legislators on Friday said Yeltsin's only option was now to go to the people.


"In the end, the president had nothing to oppose the Congress with", lamented Anatoly Shabad, a Radical Democrat and Yeltsin supporter. "He made various threats, but I am afraid there was nothing behind them".


The president had threatened a "final option", namely to suspend the Constitution and impose presidential rule, if the Congress refused to compromise.


One hardline legislator claimed that truckloads of troops were approaching the Kremlin in the afternoon, but none appeared.


Yeltsin delivered a message to U. S. President Bill Clinton via the Foreign Ministry on Friday night, reassuring Washington that he would stay committed to democracy, human rights and civic order despite the setback.


Immediately after walking out of the Congress, Yeltsin met with parliament speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov, the head of the Constitutional Court Valery Zorkin and other top leaders, where Yeltsin reportedly was dissuaded from broadcasting an appeal to the people Friday night.


They also discussed whether to call a referendum to let Russians decide whether they want to live in a presidential or parliamentary republic, or to call early elections. Results from these talks were not available late Friday night.


Vladimir Shumeiko, first deputy prime minister and head of the referendum committee said that the president would go forward with plans for a referendum, a path which many believe involves grave risks for the unity of Russia's far flung federation.


Although the Congres's resolution technically annuls referendum plans made as part of the deal at the last Congress in December, Shumeiko said that "no legal or political power has the right to stop it". If the referendum does not go ahead, he said, the president would conduct a non-binding plebiscite.


The Congress voted to extend its session to Saturday to discuss resolutions on both options - a referendum and early elections - and to keep the powerful body on guard during ongoing talks between Yeltsin and Khasbulatov.


"Given the foul atmosphere, we have to see how well the Constitution is observed", said Khasbulatov.


Yeltsin sent his preferred wording for a poll to the legislature's Central Electoral Committee for approval. Only two questions would appear on the ballot: "Do you agree that Russia should be a presidential republic? " and "Do you agree that every Russian citizen should have the right to own land? "


A proposal from the legislature would ask voters: "Do you want to continue with shock therapy reforms? "


The Congress was mostly chaired by Khasbulatov's deputy, Yury Voronin, with the speaker taking a back seat. Deputies voted on 126 amendments to the resolution, with the president's supporters boycotting most votes. They were not numerous enough, however, to make a difference.