THE legislation is lacking and no date has been set, but Russia's political forces are already gearing up for early parliamentary elections.
Many politicians say that early elections are inevitable because President Boris Yeltsin's effort to promulgate a new constitution is losing momentum. It may fizzle because of the feud between Russia's regions and autonomous republics, or nominal ethnic homelands, over the nation's future federative structure.
"Since accord in the nation-state federative sphere has been derailed, the only chance that's left is to prepare ... a constitutional law on a transition period," Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Shakhrai, a top Yeltsin aide, told the Sevodnya newspaper Monday.
"Then we should hold elections and try again to remove contradictions using the civilized way of the ballot box," he added.
President Yeltsin, perhaps recognizing that the ballot box is his best hope for passing a new constitution, wants elections to be moved up from 1995 to this fall. To do this, however, parliament will have to cooperate by adopting a new law on elections, something that is not a given.
Nevertheless, just the possibility of early elections has caused significant shifts in the political landscape. Pro-reform, centrist, and opposition-nationalist groups have all begun jockeying for the best preelection position.
In the reformist camp, at least three political blocs are emerging: the Russia's Choice bloc, headed by former Premier Yegor Gaidar; the Democratic Reform Movement, led by former Moscow Mayor Gavriil Popov; and the Russian Unity and Accord Party, being formed by Mr. Shakhrai. Gaidar backs Yeltsin
Of these, only Mr. Gaidar's bloc wholeheartedly supports the Yeltsin government's policies. The bloc's aim, Gaidar said in a recent television interview, is to keep Russia on an essentially pro-Western reform path, combatting the wide-scale corruption that threatens the nation's privatization process.
"Russia's fatal and deep historical problem in the 19th and 20th centuries has been the illegal distribution of property," Gaidar said. Repeating this trend "could pose a serious strategic risk for Russia. There are no standard solutions, but that doesn't mean it isn't a major problem that Russian authorities must deal with."
Meanwhile, the Democratic Reform Movement appears alienated from Yeltsin, with Mr. Popov threatening to go over to the opposition. "Those now in power look forward to strengthening executive power not only in the interests of reforms, but in their own personal interests," Popov said recently.
And Shakhrai's nascent party, which seeks to use the regions as its main power base, also remains aloof from Yeltsin.
In the center, the Civic Union movement's influence appears to be waning, with its adherents drifting in both the reformist and opposition-nationalist directions. Taking the Civic Union's place is the Entrepreneurs for a New Russia movement, headed by Konstantin Zatulin and prominent economist Grigory Yavlinsky, a deputy premier in the Soviet era.
According to Mr. Zatulin, the Entrepreneurs' movement seeks to establish itself as "a democratic alternative - a third force ... representing the voice of the emerging class of bourgeoisie." He argues for lower taxes and less government regulation on business. Mr. Yavlinsky, meanwhile, has been attacking current government policies, saying they will result in hyperinflation.
On the right, there are a variety of conservative opposition parties and movements, including the hard-line National Salvation Front, the Russian National Assembly, the Labor Russia-Communist Party, and the Liberal-Democratic Party of Vladimir Zhirinovsky. The right lacks leaders
The so-called nationalist-patriots currently are highly disorganized and lack leadership, according to political analyst Vladimir Pribylovsky of the Panorama Information Center. But Vice President Alexander Rutskoi may become the force to galvanize and lead anti-Yeltsin forces, Mr. Pribylovsky adds.
Though Mr. Rutskoi has identified with the Civic Union in the past, of late he has drifted to the right due to his ongoing feud with Yeltsin.
At present, Pribylovsky says the two strongest preelection blocs are democratically oriented - Gaidar's Russia's Choice and the Entrepreneurs movement, which might ally with Shakhrai.
"But even if the Democrats get 60 percent of the vote [in possible elections], Yeltsin won't necessarily get support from all of them because at least one bloc - namely the Entrepreneurs bloc - won't enjoy Yeltsin's blessing, and therefore won't be bound to him," he said.