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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

President Threatens Dismissal Of Duma

President Boris Yeltsin on Monday warned the State Duma to quit dragging its feet on key bills in his economic program or face dismissal.

In remarks aired repeatedly on evening news broadcasts, Yeltsin said stalling by the lower house of parliament on his 1998 austerity budget and streamlined tax code "points to an obvious constitutional rift between the government and the Duma."

Reformers in the Kremlin regard those measures as crucial to attracting foreign investment and putting the government's finances in order.

Yeltsin also vented his anger about last week's Duma override of his veto of a land code that would ban the sale of state property to small farmers. He accused deputies of rigging the vote and vowed never to approve the bill.

"Let the Duma think about what the president should do in such a case," Yeltsin said, shaking his finger at the television cameras for emphasis.

It was a clear reference to the powers Yeltsin has under the constitution to orchestrate steps to force new parliamentary elections.

It also was a sharp contrast to last autumn's Duma session, when he was bedridden and deputies openly plotted to oust him from office.

Yeltsin, 66, has threatened to dismiss the Duma before. Last spring, in his first public outing since a quintuple-bypass heart operation in November, Yeltsin promised to "hit back" at the Duma for trying to force him to resign.

The spring storm blew over and few expect Yeltsin to follow through on Monday's threat. The president's own representative to the Duma, Alexander Kotenkov, said at a Monday press briefing that a breakup of parliament was "unlikely" for the near future.

But Yeltsin's tough talk on a wide range of domestic issues and his active fall schedule suggest the president is stronger and more aggressive than at any time since he overcame a strong communist challenge and a heart attack to win re-election in July 1996.

"He is paying much closer attention to his physical and political health now than he has in the past two or three years," said Yury Korgunyuk, an analyst with the INDEM think tank.

This time last year, the chief concern about Russia's president was whether he was strong enough to survive heart surgery. Few predicted his recovery would be so dramatic.

This month alone, Yeltsin declared a final end to communism, sternly ordered Russia's warring financial barons to call a truce and went into enemy territory to shake hands with largely pro-communist farmers.

He has cultivated an image of a robust, powerful ruler, twice referring to himself publicly as "Tsar Boris." Yeltsin has also taken on more responsibilities that had once been left to his Kremlin aides.

On Monday, he demanded answers from Prosecutor General Yury Skuratov about alleged corruption involving state bureaucrats in the Kemerovo and Vladivostok regions -- an apparent bid to underscore his launch last week of a crusade to weed out graft in the government.

Yeltsin has also returned his attention to foreign policy, meeting state leaders in rapid succession -- hosting French President Jacques Chirac and Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi over the past weekend alone.

Despite all the show, some doubt lingers about how strong a hand Yeltsin really has in running government business.

"Yeltsin is very good at cadre politics. He makes corrections in policy by firing and hiring people. But he is not involved in day-to-day affairs," Korgunyuk said.

There also is speculation that Yeltsin, while enjoying a second lease on life, may be trying to burnish his image in preparation to run for a third term in 2000.

Yeltsin's denials that he wants another term have left some analysts unconvinced.

"When he says that he won't run in 2000, Yeltsin is really reminding us is that he thinks that option is still open to him," said Andrei Piontkovsky, director of Moscow's Center for Strategic Studies.

Russia's 1993 Constitution limits presidents to two term in office. But it was adopted after Yeltsin was sworn in to office for his first term, a circumstance he conceivably could try to use to skirt the provision.

Whatever Yeltsin's ultimate decision about 2000, his return to good health has made Moscow politics more peaceful.

Outbursts from the communist and nationalist opposition are now largely ignored by the media. A Monday conference of opposition forces in Moscow, for instance, barely received a mention on the evening news programs.

Yeltsin's return has also made potential presidential hopefuls gun-shy about making their aspirations public.

Last September, with Yeltsin out of commission awaiting heart surgery, politicians were either openly or covertly jockeying for position in case of early elections. Today, all the likely contenders repeatedly brush aside suggestions that they have their eyes on Yeltsin's post.

One of only two men to have already declared his candidacy, liberal Yabloko faction leader Grigory Yavlinsky, said politicians are mum about 2000 because they fear upsetting the president."Each one of them is waiting for Yeltsin to announce his successor," Yavlinsky told NTV television Sunday.

The other contender, ex-paratrooper general Alexander Lebed, was fired from his Kremlin post last year for publicly declaring he plans to succeed his boss. He based his entire subsequent campaign on the assumption that Yeltsin was too ill to continue, and that there would be new elections within a few months.