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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin Veto: Dangerous Justification

President Boris Yeltsin has lighted on a rather implausible and dangerous justification for his last-ditch attempt to block the controversial bill on World War II trophy art.


Yeltsin has doggedly opposed the law, which would hinder the return of the art seized by Soviet troops from conquered Europe at the end of World War II, and has imposed his presidential veto on it.


Yet over the past month, both houses of parliament have mustered the two-thirds majority needed to override the veto. Under the constitution, that should have been the last word. Failing a successful challenge to the laws in the Constitutional Court, the bill should have become law despite Yeltsin's veto.


But no one could accuse Yeltsin of giving up easily in a fight, especially when his opponents are the communists and nationalists in the State Duma, parliament's lower house. Rather than accept defeat, Yeltsin has decided to send the law back to the parliament on the grounds that, in debates on the bill, voting procedures were not duly observed.


In the Duma, he faults deputies for using a proxy voting system, handing their electronic voting cards to the leaders of their factions. In the Federation Council, or upper house, the supposed flaw is that many governors voted by mail rather than in person.


No doubt, Yeltsin is only too delighted to find a new stick to beat his opponents in the Duma, with whom he is currently battling over critical legislation such as the revised 1997 budget and the tax code.


And his attacks on voting procedure are not entirely frivolous. Duma deputies should be ashamed that they surrender their votes so thoughtlessly to their factions. The postal vote system in the Federation Council has clear failings, although it is hard to see an alternative given that the house is composed of local governors with full-time jobs in Russia's remote regions.


Yet, the broader consequences of Yeltsin's demarche are legally mischievous and constitutionally dangerous. Yeltsin has chosen a rather strange time to start objecting to voting procedures that have been used to pass scores of laws over the past three years. Yeltsin says he does not want to overturn all these laws retroactively, but that is the obvious legal consequence of his position.


More profoundly, Yeltsin's response runs close to flouting the constitution, which clearly says parliament can override his veto with a two-thirds majority. Yeltsin should accept that he has lost this battle and allow the trophy art bill to become law.


Yeltsin will look very foolish if, as is highly likely, parliament once again passes the bill when it reconvenes later this month, this time using his prescribed voting techniques.