The wily survivor

Kenneth Chan

Talk of a post-Yeltsin era in Russia is perhaps premature. Firstly, President Boris Yeltsin has been written off before. But every time he defied widespread speculation about his departure and managed to bounce back to the centre of the political stage.

It may happen again. Secondly, if the President has been sluggish, the opposition is no less rudderless.

In fact, Russia's inchoate party system itself is as much the cause of political volatility as Mr Yeltsin's erratic leadership. Thirdly, Russia's 'super-presidential' system of government ensures that the President will always have the edge over his opponents.

As long as his health holds up, Mr Yeltsin would like to remain in office until 2000. It goes without saying that there will be calls for his resignation. But the problem is that none of the leading contenders for the presidency is likely to provide the strong pro-reform leadership necessary to fix the crisis-ridden economy. Nationalists or communists, most of them are not fans of genuine market-oriented reforms.