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Yeltsin Gets Healthy Dose Of Criticism Opponents Blame Leader’s Illness For Foundering Reforms

Thu., Oct. 3, 1996, midnight

The ambitious and the confrontational lined up to accuse ailing President Boris N. Yeltsin of neglect Wednesday as the fiery lower house of Parliament opened its fall session to a chorus of complaints that reforms have stalled and Russia is foundering.

Opening day at the state Duma provided a forum for Yeltsin’s would-be successors to blame the country’s economic ills on his heart trouble and limited work schedule as he prepares to undergo bypass surgery.

But those with less of a political stake in casting Yeltsin as a phantom president contend Russia’s transition to a market economy is loping along and that disappointing investment and privatization figures would be far worse if the country were in the hands of the opposition.

Recovery from more than seven decades of Communist mismanagement may be on automatic pilot, observers say, but a bow to the political rivals demanding a more vigorous leader could cause a crash.

“We are like a car without a driver. We are the passengers, and we have the right to know where we are going!” ultranationalist firebrand Vladimir V. Zhirinovsky insisted with characteristic fury and rostrumthumping. “In order to get anywhere, we need a new driver.”

Communist Party leader Gennady A. Zyuganov, who lost to Yeltsin in this past summer’s presidential election, said the Russian federation was on the verge of collapse “because the presidential staff is incapable of functioning.”

Zyuganov’s Communist allies, the largest faction in the Duma, have submitted a draft bill that would require a medical commission to examine all top government figures for physical fitness to hold office. The proposal is set for consideration Friday, but the deputies have already launched their debate in public.

Yeltsin’s health is a legitimate political issue, said liberal economist Grigory A. Yavlinsky, because “reforms simply cannot proceed in conditions of instability.”

Security Council chief Alexander I. Lebed, a member of Yeltsin’s administration but lately a critic of his decision to stay in power, omitted mention of the president’s health in a speech to the Duma outlining the prospects for peace in Chechnya.

But Lebed last week called on Yeltsin to step down and has loudly lamented that the government is gridlocked by the president’s illness.


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