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    Constitution Adopted, But Nationalists Gain in Elections

    By Fred Hiatt
    Washington Post Foreign Service
    Tuesday, December 14, 1993; Page A01

    MOSCOW, DEC. 13 -- Russia's political establishment, shocked by the poor showing in Sunday's parliamentary election of pro-Western advocates of economic and political reform, warned today that the nation is headed for a new period of instability and could be threatened by fascism.

    Leaders in neighboring former Soviet republics and Western Europe expressed alarm at the success of the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party, which was leading all other parties in Russia's first post-Soviet vote. Officials said extreme nationalists and Communists may wind up with a majority in parliament, forming an anti-reform bloc nearly as strong as that in the legislature President Boris Yeltsin dissolved Sept. 21.

    "It will be equally bad," said Anatoly Shabad, a pro-reform candidate who was defeated in a district south of Moscow. Asked how the West should react, Shabad said, "Watch and tremble."

    Because of the complicated balloting procedure and slow system for counting votes, the final results will not be known for some days.

    Liberal Vice Premier Yegor Gaidar, reflecting the overnight reshaping of Russia's political landscape, even called for the Communists to join in an anti-fascist alliance. "The presence of fascists in parliament is in itself a defeat for Russian democracy," he said at a somber news conference this evening.

    Some analysts called the election a sign that Washington and the West should broaden their contacts in Russia, instead of backing only Yeltsin. Others suggested Yeltsin will use the election results to demand more aid and backing.

    "He will say, 'Fascism is a visible threat, so you'd better support me,' " said political scientist Andrei Kortunov.

    Yeltsin reacted calmly today, issuing a written statement congratulating Russians for having adopted a new constitution. That charter gives the president so much power that some officials said he could maintain a pro-reform, pro-West course no matter who is in parliament.

    In fact, Gaidar called tonight for a speeding up of reforms, saying that only real improvement in people's lives during the next two years can prevent a victory of fascists in the next parliamentary or presidential elections.

    But Kortunov said another confrontation between Yeltsin and parliament is almost inevitable, following the Oct. 4 clash in which Yeltsin called in tanks to dislodge armed opponents from the parliament building. While the new parliament has less legal power than before, he said, it will have more legitimacy in people's eyes.

    Moreover, Yeltsin and his team had hoped for a parliament that would pass a raft of legislation speeding reforms and removing roadblocks the previous parliament had thrown in the way of change. The government needs the legislature to pass its budget and a host of other "really key items," a Western diplomat here said.

    To win support from the West, the president also will have to show he can operate "in something more than conditions of standoff," the diplomat added. "People {in the West} will ask, 'Is our money going down a rat hole?' . . . You want the policies to be right, not just the enemies to be right."

    More than 24 hours after the polls closed, results remained sketchy due to slow counting and a complex system of seat apportionment. But it was abundantly clear that angry and disillusioned voters had dealt a serious blow to Yeltsin and the free-market reforms he has championed for two years.

    Leaders of the "democrats," or pro-reform politicians, seemed in shock today, with some lying low, others looking for scapegoats and others warning of impending fascism or civil war. Preliminary results from 56 of Russia's 89 regions showed the extremist -- and misleadingly named -- Liberal Democratic Party well ahead, with the pro-reform bloc Russia's Choice clinging to second place ahead of the Communist Party.

    "Four years ago, we lost Sakharov," said longtime human rights activist and democratic leader Sergei Kovalyov, referring to the late human-rights champion. "Now we are in danger of losing Russia."

    Each voter cast two ballots for parliament -- one for a party slate and another for an individual candidate. Analysts said results from the individual district elections, unlike those of the party ballots, would be unlikely to favor candidates so strongly ultranationalist. But they could result in the election of many pro-Communist or former Soviet officials also resistant to reform, the analysts said.

    Voters returned to parliament two leaders of the 1991 failed Kremlin coup, who will now be immune from punishment for their role in that affair. They also elected hard-liners from the parliament that Yeltsin forcibly dissolved Sept. 21.

    Preliminary figures reported by the Russian Tass news service tonight showed the Liberal Democrats, led by Vladimir Zhirinovsky, with 22 percent of the popular vote. The pro-reform Russia's Choice was second with 16 percent, followed by the Communists with 12 percent. Ten other parties won less than 7 percent.

    Results from 56 of Russia's 89 regions gave Zhirinovsky an even broader lead, with 24.3 percent compared to 14.4 percent for Russia's Choice, 11.2 percent for the Communists and 8.8 percent for the anti-reform Agrarian Party.

    Both preliminary tallies excluded Moscow and St. Petersburg, where stronger showings by the reformers were expected to help close the gap.

    Nikolai Ryabov, head of the Central Election Commission, told reporters today that about 55 million of Russia's 105 million eligible voters had cast ballots on the new constitution, making the referendum legally valid. Without giving exact figures, he said a majority of those voting had approved the constitution, meaning it will take effect as soon as the results are official.

    Yeltsin and his aides called the adoption of a new constitution, guaranteeing basic rights, a key step in Russia's democratization. The president promised to "do everything necessary" to defend the constitution and ensure "that the democratic processes are irreversible."

    But Yeltsin's opponents already were belittling his victory in the constitutional referendum.

    "If it's true that only 52 percent of the population voted, it means that only 25 to 30 percent of Russians approved the new constitution," former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev told Italian radio. "That signifies a moral defeat, in addition to a political one, for Yeltsin."

    The new constitution gives the president the power to "define the basic domestic and foreign policy guidelines" and to appoint a prime minister. The lower house, or State Duma, may reject the president's choice of premier, but if it does so three times the president must dissolve the Duma and call new elections.

    As a result, Yeltsin may keep his current government in place despite the results of the election, analysts said. He may even use his new authority to speed reforms, as Gaidar urged.

    But Yeltsin may be hard-pressed to ignore what many will interpret as the message of this election: That reforms are going too fast and that Russia has sold out to the West.

    Shabad said Yeltsin should let Zhirinovsky run the government so that Russia would quickly see the emptiness of his bluster and populist promises. But he said that Zhirinovsky was more likely to remain in opposition, continuing to criticize and reap popularity from Russians' hardships.

    Zhirinovsky seemed in an upbeat mood this morning, although he claimed the government had cheated him of his rightful vote total, which he said was 60 percent. Although he has called for a restoration of Russia's old borders, he renounced any claim on Finland, which was once part of the Russian empire.

    But many officials in Scandinavia, the Baltics and other European nations called the surge of support for Zhirinovsky disturbing.

    "Europe cannot forget the experience of Germany in the 1930s," Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar told the Reuter news agency. "We must not repeat the mistakes of the past."

    © Copyright 1996 The Washington Post Company

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