By Renfrey Clarke
MOSCOW — Russian President Boris Yeltsin appears to have blocked local authority elections called by the Russian parliament for December 8.
In its October 16 issue, the liberal Independent Newspaper reported that a presidential aide had read out to journalists the text of an appeal in which Yeltsin urged the parliament to "review the decision to hold elections on December 8 for heads of administration at all levels".
The elections were to have regularised the situation that has existed since the days following the August coup attempt. After the coup, Yeltsin began appointing his own followers to head local government bodies, claiming that the former incumbents had collaborated with the coup leaders.
Yeltsin's appeal argued that, at the beginning of a difficult winter, Russia could not "allow itself the luxury of political campaigning on any scale".
Instead, it was necessary to use the coming months for a series of "decisive economic reforms". If these were to be implemented, the government had to "avoid a situation in which people hostile to the reforms were elected in the majority of regions of Russia".
According to Independent Newspaper, government spokespeople were arguing "period of trust" in the executive power was required. The elections could be held in the spring of 1992, when the new economic measures would be under way.
What are these economic measures, which are so "essential" that they cannot possibly win the support of voters?
Independent Newspaper on October 15 reported that the Russian president intended to obtain emergency powers to implement a wholesale liberalisation of prices, to introduce a Russian monetary unit and to greatly accelerate the privatisation of state property. Other articles during this period hinted at sweeping changes in agriculture.
Ending the remaining price controls would almost certainly make the current general rise in prices, 200-300% per year, explode into real hyperinflation. The prices that would rise most would be those of basic foodstuffs and simple clothing.
Yeltsin's other plans are likewise regarded with suspicion. Among large numbers of Russian workers, privatisation is now understood as handing over the former "property of all the people" to the mafiosi and figures from the old state apparatus. Privatisation is also seen as expediting mass sackings. The ill-defined changes to agriculture are also suspect. Despite tireless propaganda in the liberal media, schemes to promote private farming have met a cool reception from the peasants, who fear that lack of machinery, fertiliser and other necessary inputs would soon leave them bankrupt.
Yeltsin and his circle know that this program is not what the people want. A letter circulated in the Russian parliament by two close Yeltsin supporters stated bluntly that if the elections in December went ahead, the victory in most regions of opponents of the government's measures was "inevitable". The letter argued that elements of the old apparatus would be returned to positions of influence, from which they could block Yeltsin's reforms.
Yeltsin's "Democratic Russia" bloc is now deeply divided, and its popularity is plunging fast. However, the state and former party apparatchiks are among the last people to oppose Yeltsin's program of a crash transition to a savage bureaucratic-monopoly capitalism. Many of these functionaries are ideally placed to take up key posts in the new privatised concerns.
What Yeltsin really fears is that elections would put the local authorities under the control of people independent both of the old apparatus and of the emerging bureaucratic-liberal oligarchy. Such people would be likely to fight for a type of privatisation in which workers themselves came to own and manage their enterprises.
If Yeltsin's pressures fail to convince the parliament to put off the elections, the Russian president can still veto the decision to call the polls.