Court ruling boosts Yeltsin's hopes in poll: Judges reject tough conditions imposed by Congress on referendum vote as support for President increases

PRESIDENT Boris Yeltsin secured an important victory over his political rivals yesterday when Russia's highest court revised the ground rules for a national referendum on Sunday and improved the chances of a clear mandate in favour of reform.

In a ruling that removes much of the fog surrounding the referendum, the Constitutional Court rejected tough conditions set for the poll by the Congress of People's Deputies, the Soviet-era legislature that has sought to emasculate Mr Yeltsin and block free-market change.

The court chairman, Valery Zorkin, announced the decision as the first of Russian's 107 million voters, fishermen and sailors in the northern Kola peninsula, cast their ballots four days early before setting out to sea.

The ruling coincided with opinion polls showing a steady increase in support for Mr Yeltsin, who needs a clear mandate from voters to resist a sustained assault by conservatives who dominate the Congress in Moscow and local soviets, or councils, in Russia's 49 regions and 16 republics.

Mr Yeltsin also faces strong opposition from his Vice-President, Alexander Rutskoi, who has declared his own ambitions to be president and yesterday continued a barrage of attacks on free-market reform: 'These are promises, but they are leading to nothing but impovershiment.'

But it was Mr Yeltsin who seemed to have the greater political momentum yesterday as his supporters injected life into an otherwise lacklustre campaign with a march through central Moscow and a rock concert on the edge of Red Square. More than 15,000 people gathered next to St Basil's Cathedral to proclaim their support for Mr Yeltsin.

It was the first sign of popular enthusiasm for Sunday's poll, which has plunged the country's political elite into a frenzy of name-calling but caused barely a ripple in the lives of most ordinary Russians.

Voters will face four questions: Do they trust Mr Yeltsin?; Do they support his economic reforms?; Do they want early elections for the President; Do they want the same for Congress?.

According to Yegor Gaidar, forced out of office as prime minister by conservative legislators in December, the real issue is starker. 'We shall decide one simple question,' he told Komsomolskaya Pravda. 'The question is whether we shall all face the firing squad.'

To reduce Mr Yeltsin's chance of victory, the Congress of People's Deputies had stipulated that he must secure support from not merely half the turn-out but half the entire electorate. Such a high victory threshold would have forced Mr Yeltsin to improve on his performance at the peak of his popularity two years ago, when he won a presidential race with 57 per cent of votes cast but only 40 per cent of the entire electorate.

Under new rules set yesterday by the Constitutional Court, Mr Yeltsin now needs only a majority of the turn-out to win a vote of confidence in his presidency and his reform programme. The only condition is that at least half of all registered voters go to the polls.

'I have no doubt that on the first question the President's victory is 100 per cent certain,' said a deputy prime minister, Anatoly Chubais, the architect of Russia's privatisation programme and one of several gung-ho reformers who will lose their jobs if Mr Yeltsin does not prevail. 'On the second question there is much more than 50-50 chance for the President's victory.' Another deputy prime minister, Sergei Sharkhrai, was more sanguine: 'Clear-cut victories do not exist in politics, and this referendum will not produce a clear victory.'

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected