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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

President Eyes New Premier Nominees




Embattled President Boris Yeltsin struggled Wednesday to find a candidate for prime minister who could win parliamentary approval and lead the country out of political paralysis and economic crisis.


With his first choice, Viktor Chernomyrdin, being widely written off as unacceptable to the opposition-dominated State Duma, pressure grew for Yeltsin to find a candidate who could get past the legislators. Leading candidates are Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov, Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, and Communist Duma Deputy Yury Maslyukov.


Secluded at his Gorki-9 country home outside Moscow, Yeltsin met with Primakov and Chernomyrdin but made no public statement. Chernomyrdin also met at government headquarters with Luzhkov, who emerged to make an unconvincing statement that he thought Yeltsin would keep Chernomyrdin.


Yeltsin's chief of staff, Valentin Yumashev, also met with Maslyukov, a former head of the Soviet economic planning agency, Gosplan, who is backed by party leaders.


Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky was quoted by Interfax as saying, "I am unaware of a decision on this issue at the moment."


Deputies across the political spectrum said that if Yeltsin renominates Chernomyrdin, rejected on a second try by the lower house of parliament Monday, they will vote him down a third and final time. Under the Constitution, that would trigger dissolution of the Duma and new elections.


Yeltsin faces unpleasant choices. Giving up Chernomyrdin would be a major concession. Dissolution, however, might mean worsening turmoil that could threaten Yeltsin and the existing political order.


Reintroducing Chernomyrdin "would not be a nomination, it would be choosing dissolution of the Duma," said Oleg Morozov, head of the centrist Russia's Regions group, which had previously backed Chernomyrdin's nomination.


The president's second straight day of hesitation could only mean he was considering alternatives urged on him at a round-table meeting with opposition leaders and regional governors Monday, deputies said.


Yeltsin has up to a week after Monday's second rejection to make up his mind.


"It is a good sign," said Morozov. "The president has begun to think, he has listened to all those arguments that people gave him during the round table, so this is a positive development."


Duma speaker Gennady Seleznyov, a Communist, said that it was "completely normal for the president, after the round table, to take a timeout to consider the current situation, first, and, secondly, to consider what candidate to nominate to win the political support of society. There's no hurry."


In addition to Primakov, Luzhkov and Maslyukov, speculation has focused on Yegor Stroyev, chairman of the Federation Council, or parliament's upper house, and on Viktor Gerashchenko, former head of the Central Bank.


If the Duma does reject Yeltsin's candidate for a third time, there has been speculation the president might cancel elections, citing the economic crisis as a pretext for a state of emergency. Or the Duma could muster the 300 votes to pass an impeachment motion, which, the Constitution says, would bar dissolution for up to 90 days.


That could mean a potentially unstable standoff between president and parliament -- uncomfortably similar to the bloody 1993 confrontation in which Yeltsin used tanks to dislodge the barricaded members of the Supreme Soviet, or holdover Soviet legislature.


Either way, a third rejection would put Yeltsin in an unenviable position, analysts said.


"Dissolution of the Duma in such a situation could lead to an outburst of political protest and possibly violence," said Yevgeny Volk, an political analyst and head of the Moscow office of the Heritage Foundation. "Every option weakens him, makes him a nominal president and shows that he is needed by no one in this country."


The Kommersant Daily newspaper wrote that "they are waiting for the president to show the white flag. It doesn't really matter whose name is on it."


"Any outcome of the current dead end means the president parting with power," wrote Izvestia newspaper.


Yeltsin has already signed an agreement to give up some of his sweeping constitutional powers and let the Duma have a say in choosing and dismissing the Cabinet. But the Communists have rejected it, saying it is not legally binding and could be repudiated.


They are also demanding his resignation as part of any political settlement -- an outcome still not out of the question.


Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov on Tuesday repeated calls for military personnel to come to the aid of the Duma in a clash with Yeltsin, saying they were "obligated to defend the integrity of the country and in the given case that includes the presence of the legislative branch."


Krasnoyarsk region Governor Alexander Lebed, a likely contender in the next presidential elections, said Wednesday that Yeltsin's resignation would "benefit the country," as quoted by Interfax. The former paratroop general said he would be ready to take responsibility for leading the country out of the crisis.


Constitutionally, the only way he could do that would be by winning the presidency after early elections, or by being named prime minister by Yeltsin -- an unlikely prospect.


Several observers cautioned that Yeltsin is unpredictable and might not confine himself to candidates being discussed.


"I don't exclude some sort of exotic choice," said Russia's Regions leader Morozov. "Knowing the character of the president he could cynically and unexpectedly say: 'You proposed this list, but I am introducing this candidate because it's my right to do so.'"


The president opened the door for parliament's power grab with his unexpected Aug. 23 firing of Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko in the wake of the ruble's collapse and a default on some government debt. Confirming the prime minister is one of the few levers the 1993 constitution gives the Duma over the president.


In April, Yeltsin was strong enough to push Kiriyenko past the Duma on a third vote by threatening them with dismissal. Since then, however, the economic crisis and continuing doubts about his health have sapped his prestige and thrown the initiative to the legislative branch.


The Communists, apparently sensing a chance to win a slice of the power that slipped out of their grasp when Zyuganov lost the 1996 presidential election to Yeltsin, on Wednesday laid out their proposals for dealing with the economic crisis if they should get a share of power.


A three-page statement from the party's central committee said that the left would seek renationalization of "strategically-important sectors" of the economy and state monopolies on the export of strategic raw materials.


The Communists have so far not agreed to join in the new government, but any of the contenders for prime minister currently being talked about are likely to steer the economy more toward the increased state controls favored by the left.