Leading Article: Democracy is the pill for Russia's ills

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The Independent Culture
BORIS YELTSIN has twice put his candidate for prime minister, Viktor Chernomyrdin, before the Duma and twice been rebuffed. As prices rocket and emergency supplies of oil, rice and flour disappear from shops, Yeltsin appears still to misunderstand fundamentally the purpose of Russia's so-called democracy: to create stability for its people and its economy. His stubbornness is having the opposite effect.

Chaos reigns. Three weeks without an effective government have brought the country to its knees financially. And its people, whose average life expectancy has fallen 10 years since 1989, are being put through the mill once again; the oldest and weakest, unable to travel and barter, suffer the most.

But two things are clear. In the short term, the obvious path is to make someone - anyone - prime minister, with Yevgeny Primakov, the foreign minister, at the head of the list. The instinct is to inject short-term stability in order to deal with the economy. But this is to ignore the underlying problem - politics, not economics, is at the root of this mess, and, until the right person is found to be prime minister, no guarantees can be made for the rouble. The initial tragedy was in Yeltsin's failure to persuade the Duma that his package for the economy was correct. Persuasion is an essential democratic skill, and Yeltsin failed.

So in the longer term would it not be better to allow the Duma to do its job? Although constitutionally Yeltsin has the whip hand, the Duma's doubts about Chernomyrdin could not be better founded. In his previous stint as prime minister he presided over six years of corruption and war. Russia may have no democratic culture, but it isn't going to develop one unless respect is accorded to its democratic institutions.

Ignoring the Duma now would be to compound the economy's problems. More democracy, not less, is the beginning of the answer.