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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Procedure Still Unclear For Transfer of Power

After the votes are tallied in Russia's presidential elections, a process never before witnessed in this country could begin -- the peaceful transfer of power from an incumbent leader to his successor.

If President Boris Yeltsin retains his post, of course, this watershed moment will be postponed for four more years. But if Communist Party chief Gennady Zyuganov prevails, he will become the first fully empowered Russian leader to gain his seat through the ballot box.

Given the novelty of this process, the exact procedure for the transfer of the president's power, including the "nuclear suitcase" that controls Russia's nuclear arsenal, is uncertain.

But the details will become a lot clearer if, as is widely expected, Yeltsin approves a crucial law on transfer of powers. The bill, which was passed by the State Duma last month and approved by the Federation Council June 5, requires only Yeltsin's signature to become law in time for the first round of the election on June 16.

Arkady Popov, a member of Yeltsin's Analytical Center, said the president was certain to sign the bill. "I do not see any cause for doubt. This is a purely technical law, and there should be no elements in it that would cause the president to use his veto," he said.

The most politically charged provision in the law calls for the newly elected president to break his affiliation with all political parties and movements for the duration of his term. This is no problem for Yeltsin who has remained outside party politics since giving up his Communist Party card.

But analysts have suggested this clause is meant to confound Zyuganov, who has always stressed his close ties to the communist party. Yet the communist-dominated parliament passed the law with little opposition, suggesting that Zyuganov might be ready to hand in his party card, at least formally, to comply with the law.

The bill stipulates that on the 30th day after the Central Election Commission officially announces the results of the election, Russia's new president will take office. This apparently simple phrase could mask some complications: the Electoral Commission has been notoriously slow in announcing results of past ballots.

During the 30-day transition period, the acting president must acquaint the president-elect with all decisions and actions he takes on matters of war and peace, internal security, use of the armed forces, and declarations of war or a state of emergency. The president-elect can attend all government meetings and consult all relevant official documents, but cannot interfere in affairs of state.

If no candidate wins a sufficient share of the popular vote to become Russia's next president in the election, or if the election is declared invalid, the sitting president stays at the helm until the new president assumes his post (presumably after another nationwide vote). With all candidates from Yeltsin to Zyuganov to Grigory Yavlinsky already asserting that their opponents are trying to rig the ballot, this clause could prove important.

The new president assumes his post after swearing the oath of office set forth in the constitution. Should Yeltsin win, he would also have to swear this oath before entering upon his second term. The law states that this ceremony should take place in the Kremlin, but if this proves impossible, the president-elect could suggest an alternative venue.

Regardless of who becomes the next president, Russia will have a new government after the election. The government must submit its resignation no more than one day after the new president takes office, and the president must "accept" this resignation, at least formally. The wording of the law rules out the possibility that Yeltsin could simply refuse to accept the departure of his current prime minister, Viktor Chernomyrdin.

The president within two weeks of taking office must submit his candidate for the premiership to the State Duma, which must ratify his suggestion. Yeltsin would be free, under the law, to reappoint Chernomyrdin. During the ratification process, the current government continues to fulfill its functions.

Should the Duma reject the president's appointment three times, the president, under Article 111 of the constitution, simply nominates the new prime minister without its approval, dissolves the Duma altogether and calls for new parliamentary elections.

This clause could come into play if Yeltsin won a second term and the Communist-dominated lower house refused to confirm Chernomyrdin or another pro-market politician.

If Yeltsin wins a second term, the changes in Russia's ruling elite would stop here. Should one of his opponents prevail, however, the transfer of power becomes more complicated.

Perhaps most importantly, on the day of the swearing in ceremony, Yeltsin would turn over the "nuclear suitcase" to his successor, containing everything necessary to prevent unsanctioned use of Russia's nuclear arsenal, or to use it "in a timely fashion. "The new president would quickly assume the various posts held by the president -- commander-in-chief, head of the Security Council, head of the presidential administration -- and would receive all property obtaining to his office. The outgoing president, for his part, is ensured a generous pension and bodyguard for life.