RUSSIA'S Constitutional Court on March 23 struck down President Boris Yeltsin's plan to install emergency rule, paving the way for the Russian parliament to move to impeach the Russian leader.
"It is as clear as day that there is every ground for impeachment," parliament Speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov told reporters, citing the court's ruling.
The parliament decided to meet March 24 to discuss the court decision, including whether to convene an emergency session of the Congress of People's Deputies, the country's supreme legislature, as early as March 26. The Congress has the power, by a two-thirds vote, to impeach the president, replacing him with Vice President Alexander Rutskoi, who has already emerged as an open opponent of Mr. Yeltsin and his reform policies.
"We face today a direct attempt at a coup d'etat," Mr. Khasbulatov said, referring to the president's March 20 announcement of an imposition of "special rule" pending an April 25 referendum. Yeltsin hopes a nationwide ballot would reaffirm confidence in him and approve a new constitution that would allow him to disband the current parliament.
Khasbulatov assailed the West for its support of Yeltsin, arguing that this backing was based on "a distorted opinion that a struggle between conservatives and reformers is taking place in Russia." He claimed that the parliament was as resolute in its support of market reforms as the Yeltsin government. But the parliament chairman repeated his frequent assault on what he called "radical market reforms [that] have proven completely bankrupt."
The president, who attended the funeral of his mother in Moscow March 23, has yet to respond directly to the events. "The situation is alarming," presidential chief of staff Sergei Filatov said, opening a meeting of the Presidential Council, which began the afternoon of March 23.
The court decision was delivered the morning of March 23 after an all-night session.
The court ruled that Yeltsin's declaration of special rule, in which he could issue decrees that could not be questioned by the legislature, was a violation of the separation of powers under the Constitution and of the Federation Treaty, which binds the many regions and ethnic republics that make up the giant Russian Federation.
The court did allow Yeltsin to go ahead with a nationwide vote of confidence in his presidency, according to extracts provided by the Interfax news agency. But it decided that the plan to hold a simultaneous vote on a new constitution was illegal.
The court decision explicitly ruled out any attempt to use the vote to dissolve the standing parliament and Congress. "Holding a vote of confidence in the president should not mean the dismissal of other organs of state power," it said. "Therefore the suggestion in [Yeltsin's] address that the vote will decide the question of who is to rule Russia, the president or Congress, is inadmissable."
Yeltsin aides have indicated that the government may go ahead with the vote of confidence in the president and to approve a new constitution even if the president's decree is annulled. The president may even choose to ignore an impeachment vote, arguing it has no legal force.
"We shall nevertheless hold the referendum with the help of executive authorities and shall try to avoid disasters," Vice Premier Vladimir Shumeiko said March 23.
"The executive authorities today need a vote of confidence as well as moral and political support to continue the reforms," he added, according to the official Itar-Tass news agency.
EVEN if such a vote has no juridical force, it could give Yeltsin the basis for moving to disband the parliament, says political scientist Andranik Migranian, a member of the Presidential Council. "They need some kind of mandate in order to act decisively, some clear sign of support from the people," he says of the Yeltsin camp. "Without this, it is very risky to use force and to try to disband the parliament."
The president has left himself with few other options as a result of his dramatic escalation of the political war March 20.
"Retreating, a month before the poll, could weaken his position further," Mr. Migranian says. "In this case, no one will take the results of this poll seriously."
The only other path out of this crisis is through a political retreat on the part of the president that leads to early simultaneous elections for both the presidency and a new parliament. Yeltsin has resisted this course, offering only to move up the date for the scheduled presidential election in 1996 by a year if a new parliament election is held in 1994.
On March 23, Khasbulatov again offered early elections as a route out of the crisis.
"Regardless of whether the president or the legislators want elections or not," Khasbulatov said, "we will shortly face a situation where both will have to be re-elected.... Early elections have become imminent, independent of the decision that the Congress makes."
The parliament speaker rejected a confidence vote as "nothing but a contrivance." He argued that both the president and the Congress deputies "were elected under practically the same political conditions - the existence of the Communist Party with all its structures."
"That is why now people are doubtful about the legitimacy of both the deputies and the president," he added.