Yeltsin stays on with PM's blessing

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The Independent Online
PRESIDENT Boris Yeltsin yesterday approved the final draft of a tailor-made constitution fortifying his power, as the Kremlin effectively buried his pledge of an early presidential poll.

The constitution, drafted by a hand-picked assembly in accordance with Mr Yeltsin's specifications, strengthens the President and weakens both the national legislature and Russia's regional authorities.

The full text will be published later today and then put to voters for final approval in a referendum to be held alongside elections on 12 December for a new, two-chamber legislature, the Federal Assembly.

The constitution is the most tangible trophy yet from Mr Yeltsin's rout of hardline opponents last month, when he called in the army to crush an armed insurrection and put an end to 18 months of political paralysis.

Another sign of his unchallenged dominance is the ease with which the Kremlin has reneged on his commitment to hold presidential elections next June, two years ahead of schedule.

The Prime Minister, Viktor Chernomrydin, and the Deputy Prime Minister, Yegor Gaidar, both of whom harbour presidential ambitions, have issued statements calling on Mr Yeltsin to stay in office until the end of his term in 1996. This suits them as Mr Yeltsin, widely rumoured to be in ill health, will not stand again if he stays in office for another three years.

A Kremlin spokesman, Anatoly Krasikov, yesterday said Mr Yeltsin considered it 'pointless' to hold an early presidential election. This directly contradicts Mr Yeltsin's own statements in September when, having dissolved parliament and ordered leglislative election for December, he promised to sacrifice two years from his own term. With his foes in disarray, Mr Yeltsin no longer sees any need for concessions. Nor have trial balloons to this effect triggered any strong reaction abroad.

Mr Krasikov said Mr Yeltsin was entitled to break his promise because of two popular mandates: his election victory in 1991 and the results of a referendum in April. In reality, the referendum sent a rather more mixed signal. While a solid majority of voters expressed confidence in Mr Yeltsh and his free-market policies, support for his serving out his term was more muted, with 49.5 per cent voting for an early election.

This was far less than 67 per cent who favoured a new legislative poll, but it was not the unequivocal result the Kremlin had wanted. It suggested a general disgust with all politicians, including Mr Yeltsin.