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Parliament Approves Gorbachev Plan for More Presidential Powers

December 25, 1990

MOSCOW (AP) _ Parliament today voted to give sweeping new powers to President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, approving his ideas for a new vice presidency and Cabinet under his direct control.

The approval of new powers by the 2,250-member Congress of People’s Deputies was a clear victory for Gorbachev, and a triumph for the hard-line lawmakers whom Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze cited last week in his stunning resignation. He said hard-liners were pushing the country to ″dictatorship.″

The parliament voted today to eliminate Gorbachev’s moribund Presidential Council, form a new Federation Council with Gorbachev as its chief, and create a powerful new vice presidency subordinate to Gorbachev.

They approved a bill placing the proposed new Cabinet of Ministers under Gorbachev’s direct control, as opposed to the current Council of Ministers’s subordination to the national Supreme Soviet legislature.

The parliament also fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to approve a bill that would require legislative approval for Gorbachev’s presidential decrees. The president currently can issue his sweeping orders without any oversight, although many republics have been ignoring the decrees and adding to the breakdown of order.

The votes came after Boris N. Yeltsin, leader of the Soviet Union’s most populous republic, condemned the plans to broaden Gorbachev’s power and said he would vote against them.

The Soviet president claims the reforms are needed to hold together a country being threatened with collapse by separatists movements and economic chaos. Each of the republics have declared some form of political independence or economic autonomy, seeking to supercede national laws with their own.

The Gorbachev-proposed amendments would replace the Council of Ministers and its prime minister, Nikolai Ryzhkov, with a smaller 15-member Cabinet and a more powerful vice president, all under direct presidential control.

They also would give more power to Gorbachev’s Federation Council of representatives from the 15 republics.

Debate began today with one deputy suggesting Gorbachev should give up some of his posts in the reorganization.

″Don’t you feel sorry for Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev? He has only one life to live,″ Erkin Yusupov, a deputy from Uzbekistan, told the Congress.

″He has a family, children, grandchildren. He is (Communist Party) general secretary. He is president. He is responsible for the Council of Ministers. In the end, we have to consider ... how much is one person capable of doing.″

Gorbachev, who has attended every session since the Congress opened Dec. 17, said he would keep the jobs in the government and party.

The president also indicated Shevardnadze had agreed to remain foreign minister during the congress, scheduled to end Thursday.

″Shevardnadze, I believe, is a man who has done a lot and will still do a lot,″ Gorbachev told reporters today. ″The question of where and how will continue″ to be discussed.

The amendments on presidential power include provisions that would prohibit the vice president from being a member of Congress, said Alexander Kudryavtsev, chairman of the amendment drafting commission.

Nearly every senior leader, including the few people thought to be candidates for the vice presidency, is a deputy in the Congress.

Kudryavtsev also said the draft calls for the Federation Council to include representatives of the 15 republics and the 20 smaller ″autonomous republics,″ which are under republic jurisdiction. That would give the Council about 150 members, which Kudryavtsev likened to a small ″general assembly.″

On Monday, Congress ordered each republic to hold a referendum asking residents whether they want to remain in a restructured Soviet Union, and another on whether people should be allowed to own land privately.

Private property ownership already has been approved by the Russian legislature, which has authority over three-quarters of the country’s land and control of 90 percent of its energy supplies.

Yeltsin has said there is no need for a referendum.

Congress also endorsed the concept of a new Union Treaty to keep the union together and voted to keep ″socialist″ as part of the country’s name.

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