Russian deputies defy voters' verdict: Deputies say they will vote against the President despite his referendum victory, writes Andrew Higgins in Moscow

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The Independent Online
A MONTH ago, Viktor Aksyuchits, a people's deputy for southern Moscow, took part in a secret ballot to decide whether Boris Yeltsin should be impeached. He makes no secret of how he cast his ballot: 'Of course I voted for impeachment. Yeltsin is anti-democratic and anti-people.' The attempt to unseat Mr Yeltsin fell short by only 72 votes.

In a national referendum on Sunday, Mr Aksyuchits' constituents expressed a rather different view of President Yeltsin's performance. Seventy five per cent of the poll in the Cheryomushinsky - formerly Brezhnev - district was in favour. In the whole of Russia only a handful of constituencies gave him a more resounding endorsement.

In response to the gulf between his position and that of his constituents, Mr Aksyuchits said: 'I'm afraid they are very mistaken.' In his office at the Supreme Soviet, Russia's smaller standing legislature, he said yesterday: 'They were tricked into making a mistake. This referendum has nothing to do with democracy.'

Far from being chastened by the results of Sunday's voting, Mr Aksyuchits and many of his colleagues seem even more resolute in their opposition: 'My conscience is the best criterion, not public opinion. I would be for impeachment again, definitely. Yeltsin is trying to destroy Russia. I see nothing positive in his course.' He said he would resist attempts by Mr Yeltsin to introduce a new constitution establishing a strong presidential republic.

Such implacable hostility suggests that Mr Yeltsin has little chance of using last Sunday's referendum victory to win over his parliamentary foes.

Particularly ominous is the fact that, compared with some deputies, Mr Aksyuchits is a moderate. He leads a small group called the Christian Democratic Movement of Russia, and has no time for either diehard Communists or neo-fascist nationalists, who have led a vituperative campaign to block market reform and depose Mr Yeltsin.

Mr Aksyuchits belonged to the Communist Party for only a year and campaigned with considerable bravery throughout the 1970s and 80s for religious and other freedoms. But, despite this background, he sees no reason to make common cause with Mr Yeltsin, whom he condemns as a neo- Bolshevik bent on dragging Russia towards the marketplace in the same way that Lenin and Stalin imposed collectivisation: 'We need reform not a revolution.'

He says the referendum was 'only an opinion poll' and not 'a mandate for action'. Like many deputies, he blames the outcome on media bias and vote rigging. 'It was not democratic. There was an unprecedented campaign of disinformation and lies . . . They created a myth that the only alternative to Yeltsin is a red-brown alliance of Communists and fascists. The results are not objective.'

Some of his criticism is well- founded. Television and radio were both blatant in their support for Mr Yeltsin, though Ruslan Khasbulatov, chairman of the Russian parliament, and others did receive air time. But even Mr Yeltsin's critics concede that media bias cannot explain his victory. Says Tatyana Koryagina, a people's deputy for the Zelenograd district, near Moscow: 'I just don't see how so many people can vote for policies that have made them suffer so much.'

Like Mr Aksyuchits, she is no Communist. She won her seat as a candidate for Democratic Russia, a once powerful pro-reform alliance now fragmented into an array of rival factions. She campaigned tirelessly against Communist Party corruption in the 1980s and accuses Mr Yeltsin's government of the same sins. She, too, voted to impeach Mr Yeltsin in March and says she would do so again.

Like Mr Aksyuchits she is at odds with her own constituency, where 80 per cent voted for Mr Yeltsin on Sunday and nearly as many backed his economic reforms. She says she was so surprised by the results from Zelenograd that she considered resigning. 'The city is going in one direction and I'm going in another.'

But such ideas quickly passed - as did any thought of considering her constituents' views when she votes in Congress: 'I vote only in accordance with my own conscience and knowledge. I have always been ahead of what most people think. I believe I will be proved right in the end.'

She sees only disaster ahead for both Mr Yeltsin and the country: 'Russia is going to repeat the same process as the Soviet Union. Yeltsin, like Gorbachev, is going to be a president without a state.'