The Congress of People’s Deputies, Russia’s super-parliament, will not be called into session in October, according to officials in the office of the Speaker, Ruslan Khasbulatov.
The decision by Khasbulatov will allow President Yeltsin several weeks’ additional time before the expected confrontation with parliament over the president’s powers to implement his highly unpopular economic policy.
With the latest Moscow opinion polls showing the President’s rating almost static between July and August at the year’s low of 30 to 33 percent, Khasbulatov and his advisors are calculating that time is running out for Yeltsin’s economic policy.
Khasbulatov’s advisors told the Moscow Times that in a recent by-election to fill a parliamentary seat in the Dmitrovskiy constituency just outside Moscow, voters demonstrated even greater vulnerability for Yeltsin’s supporters in parliament.
According to poll results reported to Khasbulatov, only 21 percent of those eligible to vote cast ballots, although eleven candidates representing the main Russian parties had tried to make the campaign a test of popular feeling. The candidates who placed first and second are both middle-aged, former Communist Party officials with lengthy records of administration in the local area. They trounced supporters of the President’s reform programme.
The President’s advisors believe he should insist on additional emergency powers to implement his policy over parliamentary opposition. If Congress refuses to vote them, the Yeltsin circle calculates that he may then be able to make parliament a scapegoat for the economic troubles.
The Congress, whose current membership is about 1,050 deputies elected in 1990 to a five-year term, has the power to ratify or amend Russia’s new constitution, and to force government ministers, who are appointed by the President, from office.
The constitutional issue and confidence in the present government are expected to be the foci of contentious debate when the Congress meets again.
At its April session the deputies voted to reject draft constitutional provisions offered by the President for enlarging his power at the expense of the legislature. They also adopted a general resolution of approval for the draft prepared by the Constitutional Commission, headed by Deputy Oleg Rumyantsev. He has told the Moscow Times he does not support expansion of the President’s emergency powers. After several recent meetings with Yeltsin, Rumyantsev says he believes the President wants to conciliate Congress.
A member of staff of the acting Prime Minister, Yegor Gaidar, told the Moscow Times this week that the decision on when to convene the Congress is up to Khasbulatov. “I’m not sure anybody in the Government can tell you when it will be”, he said.
Khasbulatov’s advisors explain there were arguments for and against convening the Congress next month. A sizeable bloc of Congressmen, who want to drive both Yeltsin and Gaidar from office, prefer the October date. Yeltsin’s supporters have said they want the President to try to use his emergency powers to dissolve the Congress altogether.
Speaker Khasbulatov’s decision represents a tactical path between these two blocs, neither of which he believes can command a majority of votes to force Congress into session.
The Supreme Soviet, whose membership is drawn from the larger Congress and which holds regular sittings between sessions of the Congress, will resume after its summer vacation in a few days’ time.
High on the agenda of the Supreme Soviet, according to Khasbulatov’s aides, will be a debate on the government’s agreement with the International Monetary Fund. Khasbulatov believes that debate is certain to expose further weakness in Yeltsin’s support.