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Yeltsin Victory Anticipated; Speedup in Reforms Urged

By Fred Hiatt
The Washington Post


Supporters of President Boris Yeltsin urged him Monday to accelerate Russia's free-market economic reforms in the wake of his apparent victory in Sunday's referendum on his rule, while conservative 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. Monday's assessments were based on unofficial reports from cities and regions, which wire services 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 conservative 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 to force new elections: half of all registered voters. As a result, 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 Monday 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.

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 conservative 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 dilemma: 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 following 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 in order to rein in inflation. But neither Yushenko nor other pro-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 conservative Congress 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 Monday suggested that 52 to 55 percent of voters had approved his policy as well as his leadership.

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 of those polled 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 believe 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 for 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.