Votes on Yeltsin impeachment scheduled in Russian Duma
May 15, 1999
MOSCOW (CNN) -- Lawmakers heard final arguments Saturday on whether to impeach President Boris Yeltsin amid signs that the vote could be close despite opposition claims of certain success.
The lower chamber of parliament, the State Duma, was to vote later in the day on whether to indict Yeltsin on any of five impeachment charges they had debated for the past two days. A positive vote on any of the five charges would start a complicated and lengthy process to remove Yeltsin from office.
There was last-minute jockeying for support with the Kremlin reportedly wooing independent lawmakers and other centrists to vote against impeachment.
Many lawmakers fear Yeltsin may try to dissolve the Duma if it votes for impeachment.
Lawmakers predicted the impeachment measure with the best chance of succeeding was the charge of starting the 1994-96 Chechen war.
"Today, the Russian president is practically incapacitated, and today, the Russian president is the main obstacle preventing Russia from straightening its back and arising from its knees," Communist Viktor Ilyukhin told the chamber. "Every day the country is ruled by Boris Yeltsin brings new serious trouble for Russia."
Gennady Seleznyov, speaker of the lower chamber of parliament, the State Duma, claimed at least 312 members of the chamber would vote to impeach Yeltsin on the Chechen count; 300 votes are needed for impeachment.
Accused of destroying Soviet Union
Fighting in Chechnya killed thousands of men and failed to clearly accomplish its goal of preventing the breakaway region from seceding.
In addition to the Chechnya charge, Yeltsin is accused of destroying the Soviet Union, selling out Russia to the West, illegally dissolving parliament in 1993, and waging genocide against the Russian nation with policies that wrecked the economy and health care system.
The voting will be held using different colored paper ballots with deputies' names on.
If any of the five charges against Yeltsin wins a two-thirds majority, a lengthy multi-stage impeachment process would start.
Hundreds of mostly elderly Communists waving red banners and shouting anti-Yeltsin slogans demonstrated Saturday outside the Duma building in central Moscow. The mood in the Duma was somber and tense with deputies discussing the vote and Yeltsin's possible reaction.
The impeachment issue has already spurred heated debate.
On Friday, lawmakers in Russia's lower house of parliament argued and shouted over whether to impeach Yeltsin, after the Kremlin warned that his removal would have dire consequences.
Yeltsin faces five counts of wrongdoing. During Friday's session, Nationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, whose party backs Yeltsin, repeatedly lost his temper, saying the president must not be impeached, because NATO's airstrikes against Yugoslavia are also a threat to Russia.
Gorbachev among Friday no-shows
Most witnesses expected to take part in the proceeding failed to appear Friday. Pro-impeachment lawmakers had hoped to bolster their case with testimony from prominent political figures, such as Mikhail Gorbachev.
An aide to Gorbachev, the last president of the Soviet Union, said he received a telegram which invited him to the proceeding, but gave no indication that Gorbachev was expected to be a witness, the aide said, and therefore, he did not attend.
Kremlin officials warned Friday that a move to remove Yeltsin could plunge Russia into a crisis.
Primakov firing angered many
Until Yeltsin's decision to fire compromise Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov on Wednesday, most parliamentary experts believed that the Duma had little chance to secure the needed 300 votes for any of the charges.
But Duma outrage over the sacking made the vote, which is likely to be held separately on each count using paper ballots, hard to predict.
'Genocide against Russian people'
Charges against Yeltsin include illegally dissolving the Soviet Union in 1991, violently crushing a rebellion by hardline supporters of the Soviet-era parliament in 1993, starting an ill-fated war against the rebel region of Chechnya in 1994, ruining the armed forces and launching what foes describe as a "genocide against the Russian people."
Impeachment, under Russia's 1993 constitution, is a vaguely shaped multi-stage process also involving the two top courts and the Federation Council upper house. Legal experts believe there is little chance the impeachment could be taken to the end even if the Duma backs one or more of the charges on Saturday.
Yeltsin watches from a distances
Yeltsin watched the parliamentary debate on impeachment charges against him from his country residence on Saturday and did not intend to turn up in Moscow at the weekend, the Kremlin said.
"The president is fully aware of all developments," a Kremlin spokeswoman said by telephone, quoting Yeltsin's press secretary, Dmitry Yakushkin.
She said Yeltsin, who is staying at his Rus residence in forests some 150 km (90 miles) north of Moscow, spoke to Acting Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin by telephone and planned to meet his chief of staff, Alexander Voloshin, later on Saturday.
Yeltsin has urged his political foes in the Duma not to drag their feet on the impeachment vote. But his camp has signalled the Kremlin leader could take unspecified tough steps if any of the charges pass.
Duma opens Yeltsin impeachment debate
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