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Yeltsin Is Elected Russia President : Soviet Union: Gorbachev's maverick rival heads the nation's largest republic. But he promises to meet with all sides before picking a government.

May 30, 1990|JOHN-THOR DAHLBURG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MOSCOW — Bolstered by Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev's opposition, Communist radical Boris N. Yeltsin finally got what he wanted Tuesday, the presidency of Russia, by promising the republic's Congress he would consult with all political points of view before forming a government.

Outside the Kremlin's brick walls, Yeltsin backers cheered and wept with joy at news of the silver-haired maverick's victory which reportedly came despite a final appeal from Gorbachev. Their 59-year-old hero, the best-known critic of Gorbachev's reforms on the political left, beat out the Soviet leader's favored candidate, Alexander V. Vlasov, the huge republic's prime minister.

It was a clear loss of face for Gorbachev, who had flown out of Moscow earlier in the day to Ottawa and a two-day visit before going on to his Washington summit with President Bush. Last week, in a stop-Yeltsin maneuver, Gorbachev took the floor at the republic's Congress to accuse him of advocating the breakup of the Soviet Union, but many deputies said the Soviet leader's criticism only boosted Yeltsin's chances.

Asked on arrival in Ottawa about Yeltsin's victory, Gorbachev said the radical firebrand had moved closer to mainstream party positions and credited his election to that shift.

"This is not just a political game he plays," Gorbachev said. "He has had to adjust his policy very seriously over the past few days, and he has adjusted it to the better. If he is playing political games, then maybe we are in for difficult times. We will have to see."

Yeltsin's triumph gives the once-disgraced populist a high-profile post he can exploit to press his demands for faster, more radical change, and it makes him the No. 1 government official in the vast expanse of the Russian Federation, by far the Soviet Union's biggest, richest and most populous republic.

The son of Ural Mountain peasants assumes the presidency--formally called the chairmanship of the Russian Federation Supreme Soviet, or legislature--as popular disgruntlement with the meager fruits of Gorbachev's social and economic reforms reaches a peak and something akin to panic is in the air over the Kremlin's plan to create a "managed market economy."

In Yeltsin, millions of Soviet citizens will see a savior. But whether the former construction engineer who has made his political fortune by criticizing privileges of the powerful and Kremlin policy from the outside can deliver in his new office remains to be seen.

"I pledge not to spare anything--health or time--to do everything to get out of this crisis and lead Russia to better times," he said from the dais of the Grand Kremlin Palace after his election was announced.

His booming baritone filling the hall, Yeltsin called his election by the Congress "the beginning of the road to Russia's social, economic, and spiritual rebirth, the way out of the crisis and toward the blossoming of Russia."

The broad-shouldered Siberian had been the top vote-getter in two previous rounds of voting in the Congress, but he had failed to garner the 531 votes, or one more than half the membership of the 1,060-seat body that were needed for victory.

On Monday, he was nominated again to face Vlasov and Valentin Tsoi, an ethnic Korean and a businessman from the city of Khabarovsk in the Soviet Far East. In the balloting, Yeltsin got 535 votes, or only four more than needed. Vlasov, who is also a non-voting member of the Politburo, received 467, and Tsoi 11.

In a last-minute tactic that failed, the Communist Party had reinstated Vlasov as its candidate on Monday, three days after dropping him in favor of a hard-liner, Ivan K. Polozkov, the party chief from Krasnodar, in southern Russia.

Yeltsin offered conservatives a share in a future coalition government on Monday, saying he would hold negotiations with all factions in the Congress on nominees for prime minister and other key posts. That proposal made the apparent difference from the previous two rounds of voting.

A "conciliation commission" representing the Parliament's more than 20 organized factions was to meet at 10 a.m. today in the Kremlin's St. George Hall to begin talks immediately about the formation of the Russian Republic's new government.

Speaking in Ottawa, Gorbachev noted how divided the Russian Congress became in its "epic struggle" for a new leader and said that in the face of Russia's pressing problems, "the most important challenge is to consolidate the efforts of everyone."

Gorbachev said that the situation caused "concern" among the people because "Russia is facing very difficult challenges. There is a need for cooperation, for working together. Instead, there was a confrontation."

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