Yeltsin bruised but victorious: Andrew Higgins in Moscow reports on hardliners' failure to crush reforms

PRESIDENT Boris Yeltsin yesterday narrowly escaped an attempt by Russia's conservative Congress of People's Deputies to slash his decision-making powers, a scheme denounced by reformers as a 'constitutional coup'.

But the hair's-breadth margin of his victory, along with a defeat on several other motions, left him bruised and promises further fierce battles over the fate of Russia's radical free-market reform.

A crucial showdown between opponents and supporters of President Yeltsin reached an inconclusive climax with a secret ballot in the Great Kremlin Palace on a series of proposed changes to Russia's constitution.

Conservatives in the Congress, a body elected in 1990 and still stacked with hardline communists and belligerent nationalists, managed to secure the backing of a large majority of delegates for the most important change but fell four votes short of the necessary two-thirds margin. The amendment received 690 votes instead of the 694 needed to reduce Mr Yeltsin to what the deputy prime minister, Alexander Shokhin, had warned would be an impotent figurehead, with 'powers similar to those of the British Queen'.

The Congress Speaker, Ruslan Khasbulatov, one of the government's most influential and persistent critics, described the vote as a triumph for parliament and warned Mr Yeltsin: 'If you continue to strive for absolute rule, this phyrrhic victory will be the last and will lead to the destruction of our country.'

But reformists, many of whom said they boycotted the vote in protest at a decision making the ballot secret, also cheered: 'I think this is a real and major victory,' said Gleb Yakunin. Others were more sanguine and several conceded there now seemed scant chance of the Congress confirming the Acting Prime Minister, Yegor Gaidar, in his post.

The constitutional amendment put forward by conservatives would have sharply defined - and limited - executive authority. Had it been approved, Mr Yeltsin would have had to seek approval from Russia's smaller standing parliament, the Supreme Soviet, for all important cabinet appointments and dismissals. Mr Yeltsin had vowed never to submit to such restrictions, saying he would either declare presidential rule or call a referendum to approve suspension of the Congress.

Speaking on the eve of the vote, he told deputies: 'The adoption of the amendments would mean a turnaround of 180 degrees and reverse the development of Russia's statehood.'

While defeated on the most important vote yesterday, conservatives managed to secure the passage of three other constitutional amendments that muddy the division of power between the legislature and the executive. All had been opposed by Mr Yeltsin. These require the President to sumbit all proposals for the creation, reorganisation or elimination of ministries to the Supreme Soviet. They also make the cabinet 'accountable' to the Congress, the President and the Supreme Soviet. How such accountability should be enforced, however, was left undecided.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
voices
News
general electionThis quiz matches undecided voters with the best party for them
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen starred in the big screen adaptation of Austen's novel in 2005
tvStar says studios are forcing actors to get buff for period roles
News
Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge show their newly-born daughter, their second child, to the media outside the Lindo Wing at St Mary's Hospital in central London, on 2 May 2015.
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before