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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Constitution Puts Yeltsin in Strong Position Over Polls

President Boris Yeltsin's assurance that the elections to the State Duma will go ahead as scheduled in December may well be credible, because the president is in a strong position to force the Duma into a compromise on the divisive election law, analysts said Thursday.


Yeltsin's veto this week of the State Duma's draft elections law had caused much speculation that the president might be planning to postpone the parliamentary vote that is due to take place by Dec. 12, or indeed put it off altogether.


The president's assurance in a televised interview Wednesday night that the elections would be held on time gave some guarantee of his intentions. But it remained unclear as to how the schedule could be ensured.


According to the Russian Constitution, there can be no elections without a new election law. The law that regulated the 1993 Duma elections was a one-time only affair.


The problem is that Yeltsin has vetoed the bill passed by the Duma, insisting on changes the deputies are determined to resist.


And unless a compromise is reached, the only course open to him is to flout or circumvent the constitution he so ardently claims to defend and order elections by decree.


According to political observers, however, Yeltsin can easily do just that, putting him in a very strong bargaining position.


"I think the president can, at any moment, circumvent the constitution," said Oleg Rumyantsev, chairman of the Russian Foundation for Constitutional Reform and a legal adviser to the Duma's Committee on Legislation. "The constitution gives him the opportunities."


Yeltsin's main bone of contention with the Duma is over how many deputies should be elected from party lists and how many should be chosen by region.


The bill passed by the Duma maintains the status quo: 225 deputies chosen from party lists and 225 chosen from regional slates.


Yeltsin wants 300 deputies elected from local constituencies and 150 chosen from party lists.


Yeltsin has said that he prefers regional ballots because they increase popular representation.


It has been suggested, however, that he actually favors regional balloting because it would be harder to stack the Duma with opposition politicians from Moscow.


Sergei Markov, an analyst at the Carnegie Institute in Moscow, sees three options.


First, Yeltsin can order elections by decree. Second, short of a decree, he could simply keep a hard line on his formula for elections, and force the Duma to override his veto of their version of the elections law.


At the moment, Markov said, the Duma does not have the votes to override.


But the longer Yeltsin holds out, the more he risks creating the resolve among deputies to do just that -- although it would require a similar vote in the upper house, the Federation Council, to force the president's compliance and that almost certainly will not be forthcoming.


Finally, Yeltsin and the Duma could meet each other half way. Yeltsin, he said, could give ground on the composition of the ballot, and the Duma could give ground by letting government bureaucrats stand for office without having first to resign from office, another point of contention.


Markov believes allowing bureaucrats to run for office is more important to Yeltsin than the division between regional and party lists, which is crucial to the members of the Duma.


"The most important thing is that compromise is possible," Markov said.


In hammering out a new electoral system, Yeltsin has tremendous advantage over the Duma, Rumyantsev said, not only by virtue of his position, but also by decree of the constitution.


"I think that sooner or later the Duma will agree and make a compromise with Yeltsin," he said. It won't be much of a compromise. The Duma, he predicted, will be forced to agree with Yeltsin's formula.


"The president won't compromise and that's for sure," he said. "And if the Duma doesn't compromise, they'll get zero. The president will make the elections 100 percent from the regional lists."


Grigory Yavlinsky, leader of the Duma's Yabloko faction, announced Thursday that he is ready to seek a compromise with the president on the elections.


"We can't allow them to be held by decree," Yavlinsky told Interfax on Thursday.