Deputies From Russia's Fringes Wield Key Votes

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WHEN the Congress of People's Deputies session takes a break, the halls outside the chamber fill with legislators. Reporters swarm around recognizable political leaders, camera lights shining to illuminate faces, tape recorders running to catch every quote.

Looking on are people like Boris Chefranov, a factory manager in the provincial city of Belgorod, about 400 miles south of Moscow. For just over the last two years, he has been a part-time legislator, making the biannual trek to the capital to fulfill his duties as a people's deputy at the Congress.

Though largely anonymous in the halls of Russia's supreme legislature, Mr. Chefranov and deputies like him are casting the critical votes that are determining Russia's future.

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For deputies from the fringes of Russia, many of whom were Communist Party members, making up one's own mind is still an alien concept.

"Deputies have dual responsibilities," Chefranov says.

"We are entitled to have our own opinion, but we must also answer to the electorate."

In the case of constitutional amendments that would have stripped President Boris Yeltsin of his power to name Cabinet members, Chefranov's personal opinion overrode all other considerations and he voted against the proposal.

"As a factory director, I want the right to select or get rid of a section head," he says. "Yeltsin should have the right to select his team."

In a society used to keeping quiet, many deputies are reluctant to reveal their positions on issues, such as the future of Acting Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar.

Omar Sharadze, a legislator and railway supervisor from Nizhny Novgorod, 250 miles east of Moscow, defended the use of a secret ballot to decide the constitutional amendments.

"You can only get an honest result if the vote is held in secret," he says. "A lot of people don't trust the electronic voting system."

Publicly, Mr. Sharadze supports Acting Prime Minister Gaidar, but his comments indicate that his opinion could change if he was not accountable for his vote.

Fyodor Inshakov, a part-time deputy from the mountainous Kuban region in southern Russia, is also supportive of Gaidar, calling him the most qualified person to oversee economic reform. But at the same time, Mr. Inshakov says a prime minister should be more than just an economic manager.

"I'll be sorry if he is forced out, but he will need to become a real prime minister if he wins the support of Congress," Inshakov says of Gaidar.

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