I'm at the helm, says Yeltsin

Click to follow


Boris Yeltsin emerged in public from his hospital bedroom yesterday for the second time since his latest bout of heart trouble, and said he was in "full control of the rudder of the big Russian ship" and that his recovery was "going fine".

Looking much healthier than in his first sallow and slurred television performance 11 days ago, he tried to dispel speculation that he is too ill to govern by saying he was "keeping his finger on the pulse", adding that he now starts work at 6am every day. "Every day, it's a half-step forward," he said.

His appearance before the cameras, almost three weeks after he was taken to hospital, was another attempt to ease public concern over his ability to rule, and comes amid growing jitters over next month's parliamentary elections.

Speculation is rife that influential elements in business and political circles, including those within the Kremlin, are pressing for the elections to be postponed from 17 December because they do not want to see the Communists triumph.

Alarm bells began ringing last week when a wrangle arose over the electoral law. Half the seats in the lower house, the State Duma, will be allocated using proportional representation. But parties only qualify if they win at least 5 per cent of the vote. Analysts believe only six or seven of the 42 competing blocs and parties will achieve that.

The arrangement has prompted complaints from smaller parties. They say it will deny their voters any representation and could mean a handful of parties get all the seats with only a minority of the votes. When the Supreme Court referred the issue to the Constitutional Court, reports circulated saying the affair was a delaying tactic, possibly orchestrated by the Yeltsin administration. Few doubt the Kremlin's inner circle are anxious to cling to power, if only because they fear being called to account over profits reaped from privatisation.

Mr Yeltsin said yesterday that the elections should go ahead "on time but with respect for the law". It remains unclear whether he genuinely believes in electoral reform before the poll, or whether he wants to lay the ground for a future legal challenge to parliament, should they turn out to be troublesome.