RUSSIAN President Boris Yeltsin's democratic credentials have once again come under scrutiny after a top government minister urged that the Communist Party and a prominent centrist bloc be excluded from next month's parliamentary elections.
First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Shumeiko on Nov. 29 asked the central election commission to remove the Communist Party of the Russian Federation and the Democratic Party of Russia from the list of 13 blocs participating in the polls, the Interfax and Itar-Tass news agencies said.
Mr. Shumeiko's request was sent after the two parties used free air-time to encourage voters to reject Mr. Yeltsin's draft constitution.
The draft, which has been widely criticized for giving supreme powers to the president at the expense of the parliament, will be put to a nationwide referendum on Dec. 12, the same day as elections.
Earlier this month, opposition parties accused the Russian leadership of sanctioning harassment and rigging the ballot to disqualify them from the elections.
The move by Shumeiko, who is also Yeltsin's handpicked press and information minister, could strengthen charges that Yeltsin has suppressed free speech and manipulated the news media during the campaign.
Shumeiko's letter is ``an example of sheer psychological pressure, a clear attempt to exclude the opposition from the election struggle,'' says Alexander Berdnikov, press secretary to Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov.
Mr. Berdnikov called the request a ``provocation,'' explaining that a copy of his party's platform that contained criticism of the draft constitution had been previously approved by the electoral commission. ``We will go on criticizing the constitution, but we'll probably have to soften our tone,'' he says.
Yeltsin recently called a meeting with representatives of the election blocs. He encouraged them to use their free air-time to announce their platforms, rather than ``lash out at the constitution and the president,'' Itar-Tass reported.
Nikolai Ryabov, head of the electoral commission, met with Shumeiko on Nov. 30 and the two jointly urged Russians to support the constitution, Itar-Tass said.
In his letter, Shumeiko also asked the electoral commission to investigate four other blocs that have made public statements against the constitution. They are the antireform Agrarian Party, the centrist Civic Union and Yavlinsky-Lukin-Boldyrev blocs, and the Future of Russia-New Names bloc.
Shumeiko heads the government commission organizing the referendum on the draft constitution. He is a candidate in the election from the pro-reform Russia's Choice bloc, headed by Yeltsin's economic chief Yegor Gaidar.