Kremlin delegates agree blueprint for Russia's new power structure: Yeltsin congratulates constitutional assembly on its role in history

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The Independent Online
HAILED by President Boris Yeltsin for its 'historic role', a constitutional assembly meeting in the Kremlin yesterday approved a blueprint for Russia's future that seeks to seal its exit from communism and fix the structure of power for decades to come.

'Common sense has prevailed,' Mr Yeltsin declared after delegates voted to accept a draft constitution enshrining private property and establishing a new system of governance. 'We are

on the right path. We have found a consensus.'

The text, however, has no legal force and faces many hurdles before it can be adopted into law. It is still an important, if so far only partial, victory for Mr Yeltsin. The draft constitution, based largely on a text put forward by the Kremlin but incorporating suggestions from critics, aims to draw a clear line between Soviet-era Russia and its democratic successor.

Like the American constitution drawn up in 1787 in Philadelphia, it sets out to transform the entire political order. However, as the result of weeks of haggling in five different committees, the Russian text is considerably less eloquent. Its main aim is to bury the remnants of a political system inherited from Soviet times and which Mr Yeltsin sees as the root of never-ending conflict with parliament. The most notable change will be the replacement of the Congress of People's Deputies, an unwieldy communist-era legislature chaired by one of Mr Yeltsin's principal foes, Ruslan Khasbulatov, with a smaller bi-cameral parliament.

But if the draft goes a long way to resolving one key issue - the balance of power between the president and parliament - it leaves far more vague another pressing concern: the balance of power between Moscow and the regions. As Mr Yeltsin himself admitted yesterday, the struggle is far from over. 'It is no secret that the question of federal components, their rights and power, is a key issue, a stumbling block in the process of building a new Russian statehood.'

Moreover, the assembly, hand- picked by Mr Yeltsin and kept on a tight leash in the Kremlin, has no power formally to adopt a constitution. That is a prerogative reserved for Congress, which is stacked with Mr Yeltsin's enemies.

The President, who received a strong moral boost in April by winning a national referendum on his leadership and reform policies, hopes yesterday's breakthrough will strengthen his drive for a complete overhaul of Russia's political order.

The draft - a heavily amended version of a text put forward by Mr Yeltsin early last month - was approved by 433 votes out of 585 delegates registered. Representatives of Russia's regions, however, seemed to have serious reservations. Nearly half of 20 ethnically based republics declined to initial the adopted text. A third of other regional delegates did the same.

That could bode ill for the future of the draft as its fate hinges on support in the provinces, where local councils have been asked to consider the text for approval. Mr Yeltsin and his aides had hoped for an overwhelming endorsement that would allow them to either by-pass Congress or shame it into adopting the new constitution.

Yeltsin's sheet-anchor, page 12