Moscow, 1 October 1997 (RFE/RL) - The war of words between Russian President Boris Yeltsin and the Communist-and-nationalist-dominated State Duma escalated this week. And, Moscow observers speak of another "Autumn" constitutional crisis.
The current Duma, elected in December 1995, has repeatedly been at odds with Yeltsin, but it has never gone so far as a censure motion. However, Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov told journalists in Moscow yesterday that deputies are determined to step up opposition to government-proposed legislation. He added that the Duma may soon vote no-confidence in the government, a move that could start the constitutional procedure for the dissolution of the Duma.
Zyuganov's words came as Yeltsin, this week, hinted that he might be ready to use his constitutional powers to dissolve the Duma, if it fails to cooperate with the Cabinet and approve key economic programs. During a meeting with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, Yeltsin expressed dissatisfaction over the Duma's activity since it resumed work this month, and said there has been "clear discord between the government and the Duma." And in what observers said was an unmistakable implication, an angry Yeltsin added, in remarks broadcasted by Russian TV, that "the Duma should reflect on what the President should do in such a situation."
The State Duma last week quashed for the second time the whole package of social-welfare legislation proposed by the government that would have virtually abolished Soviet-era welfare benefits. Yeltsin complained that deputies are dragging their feet on the 1998 budget, and on the long-awaited tax code. The Government had insisted that the tax code be passed by September.
Yeltsin also made clear that he would never sign the Land Code approved by the Duma, because, he said, it "again denies the peasants the right to hold land as property and to buy and sell it." He added that the Duma committed "flagrant procedural violations" when it overrode his veto of the land code. The Kremlin had accused deputies of fraud and proxy voting, after they voted to override the presidential veto, and adopted a new law banning the sale of agricultural land.
Observers see as a very important moment the recent decision of the Duma's budget committee to urge lawmakers to reject the government's draft 1998 budget at its first reading, scheduled for next Thursday. Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznyov has said it will be "no catastrophe" if the Duma refuses to pass the draft 1998 budget soon, as requested by the government. A government-duma reconciliation commission has been formed, And, observers have said this seems to indicate the Duma is willing to give in to strong government pressure, as it already did this year, when it gave tentative approval to the draft tax code, seen as vital for Russia's economic recovery.
Russian political analysts say Yeltsin and the Duma are engaged in hard bargaining over the package of economic laws proposed by the government. They say neither side is interested in pushing the war-of-words to a crisis, leading to the Duma's constitutional dissolution. According to the analysts, new parliamentary elections would hardly produce a more cooperative parliament, as the Communist may loose many of their seats to more aggressive nationalist forces.
Yeltsin dissolved the Soviet-era Supreme Soviet in September, 1993. That action foreshadowed the Moscow violence of October -- four years ago. Yeltsin quelled the rebellion against him and his government by sending tanks to open fire on the parliament building and in the streets of Moscow. More than 100 people were killed in two days of violence.
Parliamentary elections held after the rebellion failed to produce a more pliant parliament. But a referendum produced a new Constitution -- written by Yeltsin -- to give Yeltsin sweeping powers.
Observers say the current Duma continues to live with the fear of provoking Yeltsin into dissolving the legislative body, and calling early elections. It is perceived that deputies routinely give in to sustained Kremlin pressure. But here are signs that a different mood may be spreading among the Communist-and-nationalist opposition. Leaders of 32 opposition parties and movements met this week to discuss strategy. Among the leaders were: Zyuganov, the outspoken Duma Defense Committee Chairman Lev Rokhlin, the leader of the Movement in Support of the Army; the leaders of movements that last year supported Aleksandr Lebed's presidential bid (Dmitri Rogozin of the Congress of People's Communities and Sergei Glazyev of Russia's Democratic party) and also Viktor Anpilov, leader of the radical Communist movement Workers' Russia. Another powerful Duma leader, Nikolai Ryzhkov, also attended.
Anpilov and Deputy Duma speaker Sergei Baburin, leader of the nationalist Russian All-People's Union told RFE/RL that participants did not agree to join a common organization, but decided to coordinate their actions against current government policies. However, the daily "Kommersant" later quoted the leader of the nationalist movement "Derzhava," Viktor Kobelev, as saying, "the mood toward unification was extremely strong" at the meeting.
Participants also agreed that their organizations would gather support for protest actions across Russia, scheduled for October and November. Zyuganov said the first such action will be in Moscow Saturday to mark the anniversary of the 1993 rebellion.
The Duma last week had proposed making October 4 a holiday to honor "the defenders of the constitution and the law."
Not much time remains for the Communists to decide their strategy. Zyuganov said the Duma's Communist faction will hold a closed meeting Tuesday to discuss the possibility of a no-confidence vote in the government. Wednesday, the Duma will discuss the government's performance on the 1997 budget, and the first reading of the draft 1998 budget is scheduled for the next day.
Asked by RFE/RL if the no-confidence vote will take place, Zyuganov seemed, at first, reluctant to give a direct answer. But, he finally said the no-confidence vote would take place "for sure."
Yeltsin's representative in the Duma, Aleksandr Kotenkov, warned that if the Duma votes no confidence in the government, it will "set in motion the constitutional process of its dissolution."