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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Referendum Stalemate

The referendum has been set for April 25. But does this mean that it will actually take place? Procedural, technical, or other reasons may cause the referendum to be called off, if one of the opposing sides feels that the results pose a real threat. and no one knows what conclusion the Constitutional Court will come to regarding the legality of the questions that will be on the ballot.

If the referendum does take place, the results, no matter what they are, will engender a great many complicated legal questions, the answers to which cannot be found in any legislation. This means that the results will lend themselves to subjective and contradictory interpretations.

Fears of a boycott of the referendum are probably groundless: there is reason to believe that all, or almost all, of the regions will participate, including the autonomous republics, now called "subjects of the federation", and the number of voters will likely exceed the required 50 percent.

Television coverage of the last Congress of People's Deputies sharply raised the political polarization of the population, perceptibly raising the president's approval rating, and, correspondingly, lowering the rating of the body of deputies.

But this does not mean that the referendum can award legal victory to either side in this conflict. The absurd decision that an absolute majority of registered voters, instead of those actually voting, would be necessary for victory, condemns the referendum results to stalemate. In order for Yeltsin to win a clear victory, 80 to 85 percent of all those voting will have to answer "yes" to the first question: Do you have confidence in the president? You can count on this only if you believe in miracles.

It is more likely, but by no means certain, that the required number of "yes" votes will be attained on the fourth question - on whether there should be early elections for the deputies. Society is much more unified on this point.

But even here, no one knows when early elections might take place. The date of new elections, like the law according to which they will take place, depends on the deputies themselves. The deputies, of course, will put off as long as possible the moment when they will have to give up their privileges. According to all public opinion polls, no more than 5 percent of the present deputies can count on reelection.

A formal reason will be found to put off the elections: They must be conducted along party lines, and the parties themselves have not been formed, with concrete platforms and organizational structures.

An absurd situation, both logically and legally, will arise if there are the same number of "yes" votes to both the first and third questions - on trust in the president and on early presidential elections. Why replace someone you trust?

This will just give the Congress of People's Deputies more of a chance to interpret the referendum results in any way they feel is more advantageous to themselves.

The most complicated political and legal questions will arise after the referendum. The moral significance of the answers is obvious, but there is no legal mechanism for implementing the results. This will guarantee a new round of confrontation and new, fruitless discussions in the aggressive tones that have, unfortunately, become the norm. The discussion about the referendum's results could drag on for months, keeping the entire country in a state of tension.

The situation could change significantly if there are noticeable improvements in the economy.

In spite of the deputie's opposition, reforms are already being carried out, and neither the deputies nor the communists can stop the process. The market is beginning to operate, even though there are many difficulties attached.

Even a modest improvement in the living standard of the population would be a much greater victory for the president than the percentage of votes on the referendum. The more so since the results will certainly be disputed by the losing side.

Arkady Vaksberg is a prominent Moscow jurist and political observer for Literaturnaya Gazeta.