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Thursday, May 13, 1999 Published at 17:10 GMT 18:10 UK

World: Europe

Analysis: Russia's constitutional mess

Power vacuum: Yeltsin and Primakov in better times

By Russian Affairs Analyst Stephen Dalziel

Russia crisis
The Russian constitution, introduced in 1993, was supposed to clear up the anomalies of the old, Soviet-era one.

That had been amended so many times as Russia went through democratic changes in the late 1980s that it led directly to the confrontation between President Yeltsin and the parliament in the autumn of 1993.

Konstantin Eggert of the BBC Russian Service on the constitutional complexities
One article said that parliament ruled supreme. Elsewhere it said the president did. Eventually, Mr Yeltsin's answer to the riddle was to turn his army's tanks on parliament and introduce the new constitution.

The 1993 constitution makes it clear that supreme power lies in the hands of the president. But when it was introduced, following a referendum, and less than three months after the shelling of parliament, doubts were expressed that it had been written too quickly. Now those fears are being realised.


[ image:  ]
By sacking his Prime Minister, Yevgeny Primakov, Mr Yeltsin has started a four-week countdown which should lead either to the installation of a new prime minister or the dissolution of parliament and fresh elections within four months.

Under the terms of the constitution, parliament must vote on whether or not to accept Mr Yeltsin's nomination as the new prime minister, Sergei Stepashin within two weeks of the sacking.

If parliament rejects Mr Stepashin, within one week Mr Yeltsin must either resubmit his candidacy, or suggest an alternative.

A further rejection would leave one week until the decisive third vote. Rejection by parliament at that stage would mean that, according to Article 111 of the constitution, President Yeltsin would have to dissolve parliament and call elections.

Uncertain future

Russian Affairs Analyst Stephen Dalziel: "Yeltsin could have violated constitution on Chechnya"
But now that the impeachment debate has begun, the picture looks different. Article 109 forbids the president from dissolving parliament after impeachment proceedings have begun. So, apparently, whatever happens with the debate on the new prime minister, parliament cannot be dissolved.

To make matters more complicated still, the constitution dictates that, if the president has to step down for any reason, including impeachment, the prime minister will carry out the duties of the president until presidential elections can be held within three months.

But at present, there is no prime minister, nor government. Mr Stepashin, like his fellow "ministers" is merely acting in that capacity. And if parliament rejects him three times, he will not even be that.

It looks increasingly likely that Mr Yeltsin sacked Mr Primakov on the eve of the impeachment debate deliberately.

He has created a constitutional crisis, apparently in a bid to hold onto power. Now Russia's top lawyers will be desperately racking their brains to see which way to turn should stalemate be reached.

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