Voters will go to the polls on February 9 in Tula oblast, south of Moscow, in a by-election for the parliamentary seat vacated by Aleksandr Lebed when he briefly joined the Yeltsin team last summer. The region has been without a representative in the Duma since. The election has attracted a wide variety of notorious characters. Attention has focused on disgraced Yeltsin bodyguard Aleksandr Korzhakov, who is generally believed to be seeking election because a parliamentary seat confers immunity from criminal prosecution. Another candidate is Yelena Mavrodi, wife of Sergei Mavrodi, whose MMM pyramid fund crashed in 1994, taking with it the life savings of tens of thousands of hapless Russian pensioners. Others running for the seat are FIDE world chess champion Anatoli Karpov and Russian National Republican party leader Yuri Belyaev. Five Tula residents are also on the ballot. Perhaps the one with the best chance is Eduard Pashchenko. He has championed the cause of 50 Tula residents who, together with their wives and children, are now in the third week of a hunger strike. They are demanding state restitution for damage to their health caused by their involvement ten years ago in the cleanup that followed the Chernobyl nuclear accident. (ORT, February 4)
The campaign has been punctuated with allegations that candidates, Korzhakov included, have offered bribes to win votes. Sergei Mavrodi has promised that, if his wife is elected, he will repay all the money owed to Tula residents from MMM and other failed pyramid schemes. An estimated 150,000 to 170,000 local residents stand to gain. (NTV, February 3)
But the chief interest in the campaign has focused on Korzhakov’s murky relationship with Lebed. Tula has been seen as Lebed’s power base since he commanded a paratroops regiment there. In the early days of the campaign, Lebed made it clear by numerous nods and winks that he was supporting Korzhakov’s candidacy. This helped Korzhakov win the support of several lobbies, such as the Soldiers’ Mothers’ Committee, that would never otherwise have supported the hawkish and unpopular former KGB officer. One candidate, Vladimir Kostyuchenko of the Russian Union of Afghanistan Veterans, even stood down in Korzhakov’s favor. Although it was clear that Lebed and Korzhakov were united only by the principle that "my enemy’s enemy is my friend," Lebed’s enemies were overjoyed at the prospect of tarring him with the Korzhakov brush. Now, however, Lebed is denying ever having supported Korzhakov. So far, this does not seem to have harmed Lebed’s popularity with the public, but it has cast doubt on his political acumen, his loyalty, and his consistency.
There is added interest in Tula’s Duma vote because an election for governor of the oblast will be held on March 23, and Lebed may use that post as a springboard for his presidential bid. The incumbent, Nikolai Sevryugin, is widely unpopular because of the region’s economic problems. Tula is virtually synonymous with weapons manufacturing, and the region has suffered since market reforms began. The first candidate for the governor’s post has already been registered — a local businessman, Ivan Chernykh. (Interfax, February 5) Also intending to run is Vasili Starodubtsev, a leader of the Agrarian Party who was one of the plotters of the August 1991 coup that brought down the USSR. Lebed has so far refused to commit himself.
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