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Yeltsin Advisers Urge 2-Year Delay in Elections : Russia: Aides say scheduled 1996 vote could bring Zhirinovsky to power in the midst of painful reforms.

July 24, 1994|SONNI EFRON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MOSCOW — Close advisers to President Boris N. Yeltsin are publicly urging that elections mandated by Russia's new constitution be postponed and that Yeltsin stay in office at least two years longer than his elected term.

Holding presidential elections as scheduled in 1996 would be "untimely and destabilizing," the advisers warn. To bolster their case, they flash the threat that holding elections in the midst of painful economic reforms could bring to power neo-fascist lawmaker Vladimir V. Zhirinovsky or another would-be dictator.

Parliamentary elections should also be postponed for two years to give the 6-month-old legislature more time to learn its business, advocates say.

"I would be very much surprised if elections were held on schedule," one senior Moscow-based diplomat said.

The Kremlin has kept a polite distance from the initiative. However, since its proponents include such Yeltsin loyalists as Vladimir F. Shumeiko, chairman of the upper house of Parliament, and former State Secretary Gennady E. Burbulis, the idea is presumed to be a political trial balloon floated with the president's approval.

Taking up the challenge, one pro-business parliamentary faction has promised to collect a million signatures to hold a referendum on delaying elections--although early polls show that public opinion is against the idea.

The proposal has already divided Russia's democratic forces and could threaten the delicate political stability that has been achieved in recent months.

"It's usurping power; it's a step toward dictatorship," lawmaker Boris G. Fyodorov, the former reformist finance minister, said last week in an interview in the cavernous halls of the Duma, or lower house of Parliament.

"The whole idea of democracy is at issue," Fyodorov said. "In one thousand years, power has never changed hands in Russia in a democratic way. . . . Let's look into the eyes of some democrats, like Mr. Yeltsin, and see what he really thinks about democracy."

Fyodorov himself vows to walk out of the Duma on Dec. 13, 1995--the day on which his two-year term expires--whatever transpires in the meantime. But he put the chances of the elections being postponed at "50-50 today," because both president and Parliament have a vested interest in staying put.

"Listen, 75% of the people in this hall support it secretly," Fyodorov said in a comment echoed by many of his fellow lawmakers. "These people are not democrats. They want to live in Moscow, they want to get flats, they want to make connections, they want to get jobs here, enjoy privileges."

Fyodorov also scoffed at the notion that Zhirinovsky, whose popularity already appears to be dropping, is likely to seize the presidency if elections are held in 1996.

"Zhirinovsky is an export item for the West," the economist said. "We show him whenever we want some more money."

However, the suggestion that elections be postponed is a political gold mine for Yeltsin's enemies.

Reactionary filmmaker and parliamentarian Stanislav S. Govorukhin said last week that the president's men would hasten to delay because "they have money, power, and no chance of winning democratic elections."

The democratic forces' abysmal showing in last December's elections, as well as the upset presidential victories last month of Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus and Leonid Kuchma in Ukraine, testify to the anti-incumbent sentiment sweeping the former Soviet Union and make the idea of postponing elections more attractive to both president and lawmakers.

Yeltsin has already postponed elections once. When he dissolved the old Supreme Soviet last September and called new parliamentary elections in an attempt to end the power struggle that had paralyzed Russian politics, Yeltsin promised to hold presidential elections this June.

But after the bloody October revolt by hard-liners, Yeltsin abandoned that promise and said he would serve out his five-year term, which is to end in June, 1996.

At the time, President Clinton defended that decision, noting that Yeltsin had been elected by a huge margin in 1991 and had won a popular referendum on his policies in April, 1993.

It is not clear whether extending Yeltsin's term would raise the hackles of his Western backers--especially if Parliament agreed to the deal.

"I don't think anybody cares," said Harley Balzer, director of the Russian Area Studies Program at Georgetown University in Washington. "As long as it's not a nasty, saber-rattling police state, I think we're willing to deal with all kinds of quasi-democracies. . . .

"There'll be a little hand-wringing but nothing major," he predicted.

Yeltsin had also repeatedly promised that he would be a one-term president. But in March his spokesman, Vyacheslav V. Kostikov, said the public may demand that Yeltsin run again in 1996.

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