MOSCOW — Retreating for a day from Russia's political turmoil, President Boris N. Yeltsin refrained Tuesday from naming a candidate for prime minister, who must win approval from a defiant parliament.
The delay, following the rejection Monday for the second time of the president's preferred candidate, suggested that a politically weakened Yeltsin may be seeking a way out of continued conflict with the Communist-dominated parliament.
With a worsening financial crisis causing political paralysis, the Duma, or lower house of parliament, has twice rejected the nomination of veteran politician Viktor S. Chernomyrdin, who was Yeltsin's prime minister for five years until the president fired him in March.
If Yeltsin opts for confrontation, he can try one more time to win Chernomyrdin's confirmation. But a third rejection of his nominee would force Yeltsin to dissolve the parliament and call elections, a time-wasting option he can ill afford as Russia's currency, the ruble, is fast losing value and the nation's economy is nose-diving.
The Communists have put fierce pressure on Yeltsin to name an alternative candidate whom they could more readily accept. Yeltsin's silence Tuesday could signal that he will knuckle under to this pressure and nominate one of the men with long Soviet pasts whom the deputies prefer--acting Foreign Minister Yevgeny M. Primakov, Moscow Mayor Yuri M. Luzhkov, or Yegor S. Stroyev, chairman of the upper house of parliament.
However, taking leadership of the Russian government at what most people believe is just the beginning of a long and painful period could be fatal for their political ambitions: All three played down the prospect of their being nominated for the job.
Yeltsin originally named Chernomyrdin acting prime minister on Aug. 23, in the belief that the veteran leader was just the kind of consensus figure who could reconcile Russia's feuding political factions. But Communists and other leftist opposition leaders now view Chernomyrdin as one of the main culprits behind Russia's economic woes and are resisting his return.
After Monday's rejection, Communist leader Gennady A. Zyuganov said that his party--which with allied groups commands 212 votes in the 450-seat lower house--will never accept Chernomyrdin and that renominating him for a third time would lead to the "complete paralysis of the entire political process."
Yeltsin had been expected to fire back a letter to the deputies proposing they vote again within a week on Chernomyrdin's nomination.
But the hours ticked by Tuesday without any sign of a presidential letter. Yeltsin's office said at the end of the afternoon that it was unlikely the president would name a candidate before today.
"Today the countdown has begun for the position of compromise . . . with another candidate," Konstantin Titov, a member of the Federation Council, the upper house, said Tuesday.
The current crisis--which began Aug. 17 when Yeltsin's previous government devalued the ruble, and which has since snowballed out of control--was at first felt only in the top echelons of power. While politicians and entrepreneurs panicked, ordinary Russians shrugged off warnings of impending doom.
But as the ruble's fall gained momentum--it has now lost more than two-thirds of its value--and began to be reflected in sharply higher prices for retail goods, Russians everywhere began waking up to the scale of the problem.
With goods vanishing out of stores as families stockpile essentials, and with middle-class wage earners losing jobs as private-sector firms run into trouble, telephone lines around Moscow are buzzing with indignant and panicky voices.
With this growing popular distress in mind, Yevgeny Revenko, parliamentary correspondent for NTV television, reported Tuesday evening that parliamentary deputies were insisting Yeltsin come up with a candidate for their consideration as fast as possible, and "not only because they are concerned about the fate of their fatherland."
The consequences of the economic crisis were now affecting the deputies themselves, Revenko explained. Packets of expensive President brand coffee beans--the lawmakers' favorite nonalcoholic drink--had disappeared from the shelves of stores and canteens in the lower house of parliament.