The newspaper Russky telegraf reports that the Russian Communist Party is thinking of backing a non-Communist candidate in the 2000 presidential election. The newspaper says that Communist Party strategists have no illusions about party leader Gennady Zyuganov’s lack of charisma and are well aware that, while he is likely to emerge as one of the two front-runners in the first round, his chances of winning the second round are nil. They have begun to float the idea of throwing the party’s support behind a non-Communist candidate. In return, they would demand a share of cabinet seats for Communist nominees. The maneuver would not be conducted openly, however. Zyuganov would run in the first round, but at the very last moment he would drop out and call on his supporters to vote for the non-Communist.
Russky telegraf says that, while the party has not yet definitely decided on this course, it has strong support among heavyweight party leaders and will be discussed at the next plenum of the party’s Central Committee in April. The paper claims to have been told by Communist parliamentarian Viktor Ilyukhin that the party is already conducting "intense negotiations" with Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov. Luzhkov has yet to declare himself a presidential candidate, but he has of late stopped denying that he intends to run. (Russky telegraf, February 21)
Russky telegraf is financed by Oneksimbank, which is close to Luzhkov’s sworn enemy, Anatoly Chubais. It could have an interest in smearing Luzhkov as a closet Communist. But Luzhkov is a declared adherent of socialism, saying that he parts company with the Communists in seeing socialism as an end in itself, not a staging post to Communism. He was recently voted Russia’s most trusted politician (Kuranty, No. 1, 1998) and he generates genuine enthusiasm in his hometown, Moscow. Each week, NTV carries out a poll to see who would be elected if presidential elections were held today. In last week’s poll, Zyuganov came first with 20 percent, followed by Luzhkov with 11 percent. Running as a left-of-center candidate, Luzhkov might also pick up the 8 percent of the vote presently going to Grigory Yavlinsky. That would enable Luzhkov easily to outstrip the two other putative contenders, Aleksandr Lebed and Boris Nemtsov, both of whom got 10 percent of the vote. (NTV, February 22)
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