Analysis By Sergei Blagov
(IPS) MOSCOW --
seemingly strengthened President Boris Yeltsin
will push this week for a stronger role in solving the conflict in the
Balkans, but at home there is a growing perception that the Parliament's
failure to impeach him last weekend only further weakened Russia's political
The failed impeachment is widely seen as a defeat by the Communist-dominated opposition rather than Yeltsin's victory, while the disbelief many Russians feel over their rulers -- in the Kremlin, in government or in Parliament -- seems to be reaching nadir.
"They -- the political elite -- are solving problems of their own," Alexander Kupriyanov, a medical worker from Moscow, told IPS. "They just got out of touch with the needs of ordinary people."
"Everybody is sick and tired of this endless political instability -- we are living as if near a volcano," Sergei Tarasenko, a self-employed businessman said. "However, what else can we do? Just wait and see."
Russians believe that their representatives in Parliament defend
personal, rather than political objectives.
The State Duma -- the lower house of Russian parliament - had vowed to push ahead with the impeachment hearings against Yeltsin, who had dismissed Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, in what was seen partly as a preemptive strike against the opposition.
But as Yeltsin's approval rate in the country scores at about 1-2 percent, "the impeachment has already taken place," claimed a confident Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov.
Yeltsin was accused of destroying the Soviet Union in 1991, illegally dissolving Parliament in 1993, starting war against the secessionist region of Chechnia in 1994, undermining the Army's combat ability, and waging genocide against the Russian nation with policies that destroyed the economy and sent life expectancy plunging.
Opposition leaders wrongly expected that at least one of the charges -- the disastrous Chechen war -- could be passed.
Lawmakers had planned to hear from many voluntary witnesses, including former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and former defense minister Pavel Grachev. However, virtually all witnesses failed to show up because they apparently had no faith in the procedure.
Thus, what had promised to be a historical event, proved to be rather boring. Though a couple of hundred protesters staged demonstrations against Yeltsin in the street outside the State Duma, Muscovites seemingly remained indifferent.
To impeach the President, Russian law requires 300 votes, or two-thirds of the chamber. Yeltsin's opponents managed to muster just 283 votes in support of the strongest bid -- the Chechen war -- while other charges were supported by fewer deputies, though all five votes garnered a solid majority of over 50 percent.
It had been clear form the outset, however, that the impeachment had few -- if any -- chances to materialize, as Yeltsin's ousting would have also required two-thirds majorities at the upper house of Parliament and both the Supreme and Constitutional courts.
Impeachment approval by all three institutions was believed to be virtually impossible, sparking allegations that the move to oust Yeltsin was just a public relations exercise by the Communists and their allies -- aiming at parliamentary elections due next December.
The impeachment vote signified the "failure of a shameless political venture" by the left-wing opposition, said Georgy Satarov, an analyst and former Yeltsin's aide.
"It's bad that we did not gather enough votes, but we do not feel defeated, as all Communist deputies voted for the impeachment," Zyuganov said.
Had the impeachment reached the required majority, Yeltsin would have dissolved the Duma, 75 percent of Russians thought, according a survey conducted in the days prior to the hearings. Hence, many now think that some deputies did not attend the procedures to protect their parliamentary benefits.
If Yeltsin's approval rate is low, Duma members themselves are not particularly popular among ordinary Russians, who are wary of the deputies' high salaries and privileges.
There are also conspiracy theories surrounding the failure. For instance, ultra-nationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, whose party unexpectedly backed Yeltsin, claimed that the president must not be impeached because NATO's air strikes against Yugoslavia were also a threat to Russia.
But his opponents overtly asked Zhirinovsky how much had he charged for derailing the impeachment. There have been rumors among Duma deputies that some of them were offered cash payments of up to $30,000 just to refrain from voting.
In the immediate future, the failed impeachment means that Yeltsin's new prime minister, Sergei Stepashin, has got better chances to be confirmed in office.
Stepashin, a former interior minister and a career security officer, already won cautious expressions of respect throughout the Duma, even from leftists who were outraged by Yeltsin's dismissal of their ally Yevgeny Primakov last week.
"Reason prevailed, and a possible political crisis was averted," commented Stepashin, who implied that a constitutional stalemate could have led to a 1993-style crisis, when Yeltsin dissolved the Parliament and ordered it shelled by artillery when its members refused to abide.
However, in the longer term the mere fact that the impeachment proceedings ended in vain is unlikely to boost confidence in Yeltsin, or convince anybody that the ailing president is fully capable to run the country.
A consensus is emerging that Yeltsin's health -- who slurs his speech and needs help to mount just a few steps -- is the country's main immediate problem.
Even a prominent pro-Kremlin lawmaker, Vladimir Ryzhkov, who actively lobbied against the impeachment, concedes that Yeltsin's months -- if not weeks -- in power are counted due to his poor health.
May 24, 1999 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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