Prague, Feb 23 (NCA/Charles Recknagel) - Russian President Boris
Yeltsin sought to rekindle popular Russian support for reforms today
in a State-of-the-Federation speech which comes just four months
before the June Presidential election.
In what many analysts are terming a campaign speech, Yeltsin told a
joint session of parliament that his government has overseen four
years of reforms which have succeeded in giving ordinary russians
full political freedom.
But at the same time he said that market reforms have brought grave
social iniquities along with economic progress, and that many poorer
russians have come to the point "where tiredness and disatisfaction
Still, Yeltsin told the lawmakers, the country must push ahead with
reforms or risk losing "freedom and democracy," which he called "the
way to provide a decent life and become a prosperous country."
Analysts say that the speech revealed a Yeltsin who is running hard for president and is well aware of the ground he must catch up to be re-elected. Recent polls show Yeltsin with a single digit popularity rating in the face of a resurgent Communist Party which has emerged as his strongest rival by challenging many of his market reforms.
"Yelstin was trying today to win back the people who have been
losers in the market economy by reminding them they have something to
gain from reforms," says Robert Orttung, a political analysts at the
Open Media Research Institute in Prague.
In his speech, the Russian president acknowledged many of the
Communists' own criticisms of his reforms in an apparent effort to
defuse them and salvage support for the reform process itself.
Yeltsin said that the main thing his government had failed to do was reliably protect people's social and economic security, even as it secured their political freedoms.
He vowed to focus directly on social problems in the future. He
promised to end irregularities in payments of wages and pensions,
and protect savers against dishonest banking practices. He also said
the state must take on the task of assuring homes to families with
low incomes, and speed up agricultural reform.
Yeltsin said that many of the problems with reform to date came from "underestimating the depth of the crisis we inherited" from the
communist system. But in what appeared to be a last minute decision, Yeltsin avoided attacking the Communists head-on today.
Correspondents say that a written state-of-the-federation message given
to the legislators yesterday included a strongly stated case against Communism as a
reason to continue reforms. Why Yeltsin did not make the same case in
his remarks today was not immediately clear, but it could have been a
nod to the sensibilities of his audience. Since last year's address,
Parliamentary elections have swept Communist delegates into the lower
house (Duma) as the largest voting block.
Yeltsin devoted surprisingly little time to speaking about either
the war in Chechnya, a theme which dominated his state of the federation speech last year.
He said the crisis in Chechnya "is still a serious issue," but gave
few specifics of how it would be resolved. He said that the
supporters of separatist leader Dzhokhar Dudayev have resorted to
"simple banditism," but that Moscow was open to negotiations and
compromise with "responsible political representatives."
The scant attention paid to Chechnya surprised analysts who recall
Yeltsin's previous legislative address, which opened with an
invitation to lawmakers to observe a moment of silence for the
victims of the fighting.
Analyst Orttung observes that "Yeltsin may simply by playing for
time on the Chechen war until he has a solution." Most analysts
believe Yeltsin cannot win the June elections without first ending
the crisis in the breakaway republic.