Hinting that he doesn’t plan to run for re-election in 2000, President Boris Yeltsin on Monday welcomed his former prime minister’s decision to try to become Russia’s next president.
Yeltsin stressed, however, that he was not anointing ousted premier Viktor Chernomyrdin: The next Kremlin leader must be someone the Russian people choose.
“You speak about succession when it concerns kings. And here people make the choice. The people will choose the successor,” Yeltsin told reporters in the Kremlin.
Some analysts have speculated that Chernomyrdin’s growing political activity had irritated Yeltsin, who was still considering whether to run again himself. Others claimed Yeltsin fired Chernomyrdin to let the former prime minister distance himself from the government as he prepared his candidacy.
Chernomyrdin, whom Yeltsin dismissed with the rest of the Cabinet a week ago, announced Saturday that he would run for president. Yeltsin suggested Monday that Chernomyrdin’s plans did not come as a surprise.
“When he said he was the one who made the decision, he was a bit off,” Yeltsin said. “I made the decision. I made the decision on the government’s dismissal, at the same time having in mind that (Chernomyrdin) will lead the presidential campaign.”
“A strong leader is needed … and taking into account that I am dropping out of the elections, we should strengthen” the Kremlin team, Yeltsin said. “This does not violate the general course of our policy.”
Yeltsin’s uncertain health and the two-term constitutional limit should rule out the possibility of another bid for the top job, but presidential aides have indicated the 67-year-old leader still might run in 2000.
They claim Yeltsin’s first term does not count toward the limit because it began during Soviet times.
As Yeltsin looked ahead Monday to the next presidential vote, members of the lower chamber of parliament, the State Duma, contemplated a much more immediate battle: the fight over confirmation of Yeltsin’s candidate for prime minister, Sergei Kiriyenko.
Yeltsin has threatened to dissolve parliament unless it approves the 35-year-old reformer, who served briefly as fuel and energy minister before the president asked him to take the helm of the Cabinet.
Under the constitution, Yeltsin has the right to dissolve parliament if it rejects his candidate three times. If Kiriyenko is rejected on the first or second vote, the president can renominate him or choose another candidate.
Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov indicated that his party wouldn’t provoke dissolution and early elections. Instead, he said, it would ask parliament to back its demand for Yeltsin to withdraw Kiriyenko’s candidacy and hold broad discussions with the opposition to form the new Cabinet.
The Communists and other opposition groups want Yeltsin to roll back at least some of the government’s economic reforms as a condition for supporting Kiriyenko.
“The problem isn’t with (Kiriyenko), it’s with the course and the workability of the new Cabinet,” Zyuganov said.