Yeltsin supporters found their own party

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The Independent Online
LEADING democrats launched an electoral bloc over the weekend which they hope will perform well enough in December's parliamentary poll to become Russia's governing party. They took 'freedom, property, legality' as their slogan and the reformist Tsar Peter the Great as their symbol.

But President Boris Yeltsin disappointed the group by not overtly identifying himself with them - and they only narrowly avoided a split at their founding congress.

Despite the state of emergency, under which all political meetings were supposed to be banned, more than 1,000 delegates from 84 regions attended the gathering of the Russia's Choice bloc held in the House of Cinema on Saturday and yesterday. The front rows were filled by radical ministers already in the cabinet, and the keynote speech was made by the leading market reformer, Deputy Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar, who promised Russians an end to economic chaos and better living standards in future.

But he said the country was in such crisis that the government could not afford to give people 'sweeteners' before the elections on 12 December. 'The possibilities for pursuing such a policy have been exhausted. We cannot offer a lot, except a stable currency, stable power, stable legislation protecting private property and the distribution of state funds to protect those in need. This will be a party of democratic and market order.'

Out in the corridors arguments were raging between the President's aides, who want to turn Russia's Choice into the country's first really professional political party since the collapse of Communism, and members of the old and chaotic Democratic Russia movement which helped to bring Mr Yeltsin to power in the 1991 elections.

The internal conflict was papered over after the bloc chose as its chairman Sergei Kovalyov, who made a conciliatory speech.

Fear of 'petty intrigues and splits' was one reason given by the Deputy Prime Minister, Sergei Shakhrai, for not joining Russia's Choice but for going off to the northern city of Novgorod to found a rival grouping, the Party of Russian Unity and Concord. His other reason was that he wanted to give more priority to regional policy.

Presidential aide Gennady Burbulis expressed frustration that Mr Yeltsin, who since leaving the CPSU has refused to join any party, did not appear at the Russia's Choice congress and embrace the bloc - but the President is apparently sticking to his decision to be above party politics. In any case, Russia's Choice, the Party of Russian Unity and Concord, and even some other groupings of centrists and industrialists, are likely to give broad support to Mr Yeltsin in the new parliament.

Since the uprising against the President was defeated two weeks ago, opposition has gone underground. His main enemies, former vice-president Alexander Rutskoi and former parliamentary chairman Ruslan Khasbulatov, are in jail. Ten neo-Communist and extreme nationalist parties are banned. And although the state of emergency ends today, the most hardline newspapers will not be allowed to reopen. Only some fascist groups that steered clear of the uprising are free to take part in the elections.

(Photograph omitted)