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Russia: Court Ruling Precludes Third Term For Yeltsin

Moscow, 6 November 1998 (RFE/RL) -- November 5 is a date of significance for Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

Two years ago on this day Yeltsin underwent quintuple heart bypass surgery and on Nov. 5 Russia's Constitutional Court ruled that the ailing president is ineligible to run again. The Court ruled that since Yeltsin has been elected twice, he cannot run for a third term, because this would violate the constitution.

In the last few months, Yeltsin has repeatedly said he would not seek re-election. However, Kremlin aides had routinely hinted that Yeltsin, who was first elected as president of the Russian Federation in Soviet times, is serving his first term under the 1993 Russian constitution and could therefore decide to run again in a vote scheduled for the year 2000.

Ever since the financial and political crisis hit Russia in August, Yeltsin has been increasingly sidelined and speculation has mounted about the state of his health.

But even if he manages once again to recover physically and politically, today's Constitutional Court ruling means that Yeltsin now cannot change his mind and run again.

Most presidential hopefuls have already announced their intentions and the Court ruling will also mean that preparations for the presidential campaign will now intensify.

In a development that is seen in Moscow as linked to the Court's decision, the State Duma yesterday failed to approve a measure requiring greater oversight of the President's health.

Presidential aides, commenting on the Court ruling, said the President was satisfied with the decision and added that the request of Yeltsin's foes in parliament to look into his health had been inspired by political games.

Yeltsin, who has been ill frequently since his heart surgery in 1996, has been increasingly absent from the Kremlin since the summer. Recent appearances in which he has given the impression of being sick and at times incoherent have prompted his critics to say he is not fit for office and to call for early presidential elections.

Yeltsin is recovering at the Black Sea resort of Sochi after his latest illness. The Kremlin has insisted that Yeltsin does not suffer from any serious ailment and will be able to serve his term in full.

Two presidential contenders, Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov and Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed, have said that Yeltsin should step down voluntarily. However, at least one influential political player says that it is not in the interests of most members of the Russian elite to see the president leave office in the near future.

Igor Malashenko, the first deputy chairman of Media-Most, which controls the commercial television network NTV, said this week that "many politicians are concerned that Yeltsin's early retirement would send new shockwaves through Russia's depressed economy, destabilize the underdeveloped political system and undermine the fragile constitutional order."

According to Malashenko, who was a top coordinator of Yeltsin's presidential campaign in 1996, Yeltsin "may accept a much more limited role for himself, transferring most of his power to Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov and secluding himself in his residence outside Moscow."