Yeltsin softens line on assembly: Rivals in parliament offered olive branch

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The Independent Online
PRESIDENT Boris Yeltsin held out an olive branch to his rivals in parliament yesterday, saying their proposals for a new Russian constitution could be discussed at an assembly which he originally intended would consider only his own plan. The chairman of parliament, Ruslan Khasbulatov, did not respond, as he was taken ill earlier in the day.

Mr Yeltsin called the assembly, which opened last week, after winning a vote of confidence in April. He hoped delegates, representing Russia's regions as well as political and business interests, would help him get the upper hand over the Soviet-era parliament by approving his plan for a stronger presidency. On Saturday Mr Khasbulatov stormed out of the assembly after Mr Yeltsin refused to let him speak at the opening session.

But since then the President has taken a more conciliatory approach, apparently because not enough regions have been willing to give him a quick victory over parliament. On Wednesday he invited Mr Khasbulatov back to the assembly and yesterday he went further by telling delegates that some working groups were now considering a draft constitution produced by parliament as well as his own text.

'Two drafts known to you are being worked on,' he said. 'Being worked on, not in competition. And the dominating mood at this assembly is not protectionism by the authors of their ambitions but constructive work.'

The President also rowed back on an earlier speech which had offended parliament with its claim that the system of 'soviets' (parliament at national level and councils in the regions) was inherently undemocratic. 'In places where the desire to be all-powerful is overcome, the soviets work productively with the executive and judicial authorities,' he said.

The soviets date back to the Communist period when they were mere rubber stamps for the ruling party, but reforms under Mikhail Gorbachev made them more democratic.

It remains to be seen whether Mr Khasbulatov will meet Mr Yeltsin half-way. Yesterday before he was taken ill - apparently suffering from stress - it was reported that he was planning to call a rival constitutional assembly for July. If Mr Khasbulatov joins Mr Yeltsin's assembly, the deliberations will be longer and more complicated, but the President may tolerate this in the interests of ultimate consensus. The two drafts differ mainly on the amount of power the president should have.