Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 45

Several candidates who see themselves as democratic alternatives to the two main candidates in the March 26 presidential election–Acting President Vladimir Putin and Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov–have broached the idea of uniting behind a single democratic candidate. Samara Governor Konstantin Titov and Yevgeny Savostyanov, who once headed the Moscow branch of Russia’s state security service and later was an official in the Kremlin administration, discussed the issue in separate news conferences yesterday. Savostyanov said that he would withdraw from the race if he, Titov and Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky, could agree on a single candidate. Yavlinsky, who is also a candidate, had been running third in opinion polls. Savostyanov described himself, Titov and Yavlinsky as “adherents of liberal values, under whom society will control officials and limit the power of the bureaucracy.”

Titov, meanwhile, said he was negotiating with Savostyanov but ruled out an alliance with Yavlinsky. Titov is reportedly willing to negotiate with another candidate from the democratic camp–Ella Pamfilova, who was Boris Yeltsin’s social minister in the early 1990s. For his part, Yavlinsky has reportedly been talking to Savostyanov and yet another candidate–Stanislav Govoryukhin, the left-nationalist film director (Russian agencies, March 2; Segodnya, March 3). The democrats latest maneuverings need to be viewed against the backdrop of Putin’s towering advantages over all challengers. Titov’s and Savostyanov’s chances in the March 26 vote are negligible, judging by surveys, and even Yavlinsky trails way behind Putin in the opinion polls.

Titov, meanwhile, came out yesterday and harshly criticized a proposal by three regional leaders, including Novgorod Governor Mikhail Prusak, to extend the presidential term from four to seven years and to have Russia’s governors picked by the president (see the Monitor, February 29). Titov denounced the proposal as a “detailed plan of the liquidation of democratic achievements in Russia” that would lead to a “total reorganization” of executive political power in Russia and “the reanimation of the former USSR” (Moscow Times, Vremya-MN, March 3). Titov admitted that he was alone among the governors in criticizing the proposal. Some of them, he said, had privately urged him to back the proposal, which would require a constitutional amendment, arguing that Putin’s electoral victory is assured and that he planned to institute it in any case (Moscow Times, Vremya-MN, March 3).

Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin yesterday announced that he would not, as some observers had expected, challenge incumbent Governor Vladimir Yakovlev in the next St. Petersburg governor’s contest, scheduled for this May (see the Monitor, March 1). Stepashin called on both Yabloko, to which State Duma faction he belongs, and the Union of Right-Wing Forces, to back Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko, the government’s social minister, should she decide to challenge Yakovlev. Probably not coincidentally, the pro-Kremlin Unity party yesterday also called on Matvienko to challenge Yakovlev. Matvienko said that she would make a decision on whether to run after meeting with Putin (Moscow Times, Vremya-MN, March 3). Matvienko entered the government in September 1998, as part of then Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov’s cabinet. Today Primakov and Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov said they would back Matvienko if she decided to run against Yakovlev for St. Petersburg governor (Russian agencies, March 3). Both men lead the Fatherland-All Russia coalition.”