Yeltsin Backers Urge Speedup of ReformsBy Fred Hiatt
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, April 27, 1993; Page A01
MOSCOW, April 26 -- Supporters of President Boris Yeltsin urged him today to accelerate Russia's free-market economic reforms in the wake of his apparent victory in Sunday's referendum on his rule, while opponents denied that he had won a victory at all.
The emergence of Moscow's "spin doctors" even before all votes are counted suggested Sunday's ballot will not easily break the stalemate bedeviling Russia's political and economic policy making. Much now seems to depend on the next moves by Yeltsin, who was said today to be "studying" initial results.
The electoral commission said it will not release official results until Tuesday. Today's assessments were based on unofficial reports from cities and regions, which news agencies and political groups assembled into preliminary estimates.
Those preliminary results, as released by Yeltsin's office and the Public Committee in Support of the Referendum, appeared to show a victory for Yeltsin more impressive than most experts had predicted, given the dislocations and impoverishment many Russians have experienced in the past two years.
According to the unofficial estimates, about 60 percent of those who voted expressed confidence in Yeltsin and more than half supported his social and economic program, while about 70 percent voted to replace the reform-resistant parliament by means of early elections.
But, with about two-thirds of eligible voters turning out, according to those estimates, the reform forces apparently fell short of the total needed -- half of all registered voters -- to force new elections. As a result, widely divergent interpretations of the unofficial results took on added significance.
Yeltsin's spokesman hailed the referendum as a show of "massive support" for the president that showed "that the popular will for revival through democratic reforms has taken root in Russia and is growing stronger."
Leaders from Washington to Tokyo to NATO headquarters in Brussels hailed the initial results as encouraging. German Finance Minister Theo Waigel said the West could now begin fulfilling its promises of increased aid for Russia's reforms.
President Clinton called Yeltsin today and congratulated him. Clinton said later that the outcome could help him win approval in Congress of a $1.8 billion aid package for Russia.
But Russian Vice President Alexander Rutskoi, who has become a leading critic of Yeltsin, denied that Yeltsin or his reforms had won a victory. The air force general noted that if 32 million people voted for Yeltsin, more than 70 million voted against him or did not vote at all.
"There can be no talk of overall popular support," he told the Reuter news agency.
Parliament leader Ruslan Khasbulatov was similarly unyielding. He told a meeting of legislative leaders that the referendum produced "no losers and no winners," but split society and weakened Russia, as he said he had predicted.
Khasbulatov also said that the opposition could have won the referendum if it had had three more days to campaign, according to deputies who heard his address. He bitterly accused the news media of a pro-Yeltsin bias and compared one of the president's top advisers, Mikhail Poltoranin, to Nazi propaganda chief Josef Goebbels.
"Having lost the referendum outright," Poltoranin retorted, "the supporters of barracks-room communism have begun looking for scapegoats."
Yeltsin sought Sunday's referendum to break a debilitating standoff between those favoring rapid democratic and free-market reforms and opponents who argue that Russia cannot stand the shock of such rapid change. The Congress of People's Deputies, elected in Soviet days, has put a brake on many of Yeltsin's proposals, such as legalizing the private ownership and sale of land.
But the referendum, while perhaps altering the political landscape, did not solve Yeltsin's basic problem: How to move Russia toward a new constitution, parliament and system of government without breaking existing law or sparking violent confrontation among regions or within the military.
Yegveny Ambartsumov, a centrist deputy and foreign affairs committee chairman, said today, "I would say it is a tie, although I think the president has the advantage."
Democratic activists, who contend Yeltsin should have dissolved Congress after the failed hard-line coup in 1991, demanded that he press his advantage now.
"We urge the president to fully use the results of the victory and not indulge in inexplicable inaction, as was the case in the post-August 1991 days," said Sergei Yushenko, a pro-reform legislator.
He said Yeltsin should take "vigorous and decisive" steps to replace Russia's Brezhnev-era constitution, approve a new election law, promote privatization and entrepreneurial activity and get control of the money supply to rein in inflation. But neither Yushenko nor other reform leaders specified how they think Yeltsin should accomplish those goals.
One surprising result, according to the unofficial, preliminary reports, was Yeltsin's apparent victory on the second of four questions, which asked voters whether they approved of his government's social and economic program. The Congress, dominated by opponents of radical reforms, placed that question on the ballot as a trap, expecting that Yeltsin would lose it even if he won the outright vote of confidence. But most unofficial, preliminary estimates today suggested that 52 percent to 55 percent of voters had approved his policy as well as his leadership.
Yeltsin rolled up especially large margins in Russia's Far East and in the two largest cities -- Moscow and St. Petersburg -- where about 75 percent of voters expressed confidence in his leadership, according to unofficial estimates. His support was weaker in rural areas.
An exit survey conducted for The Washington Post and other news organizations by the U.S.-based Voter Research and Surveys showed that those whose lives have improved in the past two years voted overwhelmingly for Yeltsin.
But even among those who said that their lives were better under communism, 43.4 percent said they voted for Yeltsin, indicating an apparent willingness to wait for reforms to take effect. That same patience was reflected in the fact that Yeltsin, according to the polls, won more than 70 percent support even among voters who think Russia's economy will not improve for more than five years.
The survey, based on interviews with 8,700 voters at 103 polling places across Russia, indicated that young voters were most enthusiastic about Yeltsin but that he won a majority among all age groups.
About 70 percent of those who went to the polls supported early elections for Congress, according to unofficial, preliminary estimates, but that represented only about 45 percent of eligible voters, not enough to force new elections.