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Western Press Review: Yeltsin Faces Down Ex-communist Opposition

  • Don Hill



Prague, 16 October 1997 (RFE/RL) -- The Wall Street Journal Europe characterizes with a quip today the key factor in Russian President Boris Yeltsin's apparent victory yesterday over opponents in the State Duma: The newspaper says in an editorial: "As it turns out, elections are to today's Communists what garlic is to Dracula."

TIMES: President Yeltsin offered an olive branch to opposition leaders

Reporting from Moscow Richard Beeston describes the confrontation and its immediate outcome as follows: "President Yeltsin intervened last night to head off a bruising confrontation with parliament. He offered an olive branch to opposition leaders, who promptly postponed their vote of no confidence in the government. After a day of frantic behind-the-scenes negotiations between government officials and members of the Duma, the lower house of parliament, deputies voted to put off the motion until next Wednesday."

NEW YORK TIMES: Polls suggest that the Communists would be the biggest losers

In an analysis from Moscow Alessandra Stanley says today that Yeltsin's winning tactic was to hint at early elections, which the communist opposition believes would cost it seats in the Duma.

She writes: "By dropping another hint that he would dissolve parliament and call early elections if a no-confidence measure went through, Yeltsin was reminding his opponents that a no-confidence vote could prove just as problematic for the Communist Party that sponsored it as for the administration. Polls suggest that the Communists would be the biggest losers if new elections are held now. The Communists, who hold the majority in the lower house of Parliament, failed to form a coalition with other factions big enough to gather sufficient votes for a no-confidence motion Wednesday night, and instead the Duma passed a resolution to delay a no-confidence vote until next week."

But an anti-government vote would have hurt Yeltsin's government also, she says. Stanley writes: "If passed, the no-confidence measure would undoubtedly have dealt a severe blow to the government's plans to trim the budget and broaden economic reform; and the political uncertainty, potentially destabilizing in Russia's young democracy, could have damaged severely Russia's fragile economy."

Even with his deft disarming of the facedown, Yeltsin can expect difficulties ahead, she says: "Negotiations over the 1998 budget and a new tax code are not necessarily going to be smooth. Parliament has already put forward 500 amendments to the government's draft tax code. The government's plan for the 1998 budget calls for more of the deep cuts in military spending and subsidies to industry and agriculture that parliament refused to approve in 1997."

DAILY TELEGRAPH: Vladimir Zhirinovsky warned the deputies that they were committing suicide

Alan Philps writes from Moscow that Yeltsin's soft words yesterday reminded deputies that he once wielded a memorable stick. Philps says: "The president's intervention took the steam out of the opposition. (The Duma) voted to postpone debate on the no-confidence motion for a week."

The writer says: "Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the ultranationalist leader, who opposed the no-confidence vote, warned the deputies that they were committing suicide. Every member of the Duma remembers that Mr. Yeltsin, faced with an unruly chamber in 1993, sent in the tanks to reduce it to rubble."

NEWSDAY: Yeltsin played all the cards at his disposal

Susan Sachs also recalls the 1993 mini-insurrection in analysis today. She writes in the U.S. newspaper: "Although the opposition forces in the Duma have the votes to bring down the government -- and create Russia's biggest political crisis since the parliament was bombed into submission in 1993 -- they not only squabbled fatally among themselves but also were out maneuvered by Yeltsin and his aides."

Sachs writes: "Yeltsin, reinforced by a constitution that gives him autocratic powers over a weak parliament, played all the cards at his disposal. First, he made explicit threats to dissolve the Duma. (And, second), his prime minister, (Viktor) Chernomyrdin, surprised the deputies by announcing he would immediately resign if the no-confidence motion passed. (finally), Yeltsin intervened personally during the Duma debate, phoning in a plea -- 'for the sake of calm' -- to call off the planned vote."

CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Communists appeared to be suffering from political cold feet

Colin McMahon comments on yesterday's developments when he says: "A week ago, the Communists who dominate the Duma were predicting a landslide condemnation of the (Chernomyrdin) government. But momentum soon began to shift, and by (yesterday) evening those same Communists appeared to be suffering from political cold feet. Rather than risk a defeat that seemed increasingly likely, they pushed through a delay of the no-confidence vote. Now scheduled for next Wednesday, it may wind up being cast aside altogether. The delay constitutes a victory for the government, which played good cop-bad cop with the Duma as the vote approached."

WALL STREET JOURNAL: Maneuvers show the extremes of Russian politics

In an analysis today Steve Liesman says that yesterday's maneuvers showed up what he calls "the extremes of Russian politics, which range from revanchist communism to no-holds-barred market reforms." Liesman writes: "The Communist Party, the dominant faction in the Duma, found itself lacking the support from the only other faction that opposes the government outright, the liberal Yabloko Party." The Yabloko Party opposes the government, not as do the Communists for its reforms, but for insufficient reform, Liesman said.

In its accompanying editorial the paper writes that the communist Dracula is recoiling from the election garlic in Italy as well as in Russia, with the same instructive effect. The newspaper says: "Surely the lesson here is that there is little to be gained from capitulating to politicians who have good reason to fear being tested once more at the ballot box."
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