Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 4

The Federation Council voted yesterday overwhelmingly–145 to 1–to approve the recommendation of its constitutional law committee to hold the presidential election on Sunday, March 26. Afterwards, Aleksandr Veshnyakov, chairman of the Central Election Committee (CEC), announced that today (January 6) would mark the start of the presidential campaign, and that the CEC would today approve the schedule for registration of candidates and campaigning. As Veshnyakov noted, a presidential candidate must gather by February 13 a half million signatures of voters–no more than 70,000 from any one of Russia’s eighty-nine regions–as well as present income and property declarations for himself and members of his family. He also noted that according to Russia’s law on presidential elections, in the event of a pre-term presidential election–as is the case this time, given Boris Yeltsin’s December 31 resignation–the length of the campaign is abbreviated. Thus, according to Veshnyakov, candidates will have until February 13 to register, after which they will have thirty days to use the print media for campaigning and twenty-three days to use electronic media. Electoral “agitation” will be banned after March 24. Veshnyakov is supposed to have a meeting today with Acting President and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (Russian agencies, January 5-6).

The first official candidate appeared today, when an initiative group of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) today forwarded the candidacy of its leader, Gennady Zyuganov, on behalf of Russia’s “national-patriotic” opposition. Zyuganov, however, was not present when the decision was made (Radio Ekho Moskvy, January 6). Meanwhile, All Russia, the regional leaders’ movement which teamed up with Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov’s Fatherland bloc for last December’s State Duma elections, yesterday announced that it would support Putin in the March 26 presidential election. Oleg Morozov, secretary of the Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) coordinating council, said that following All Russia’s decision yesterday, former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, OVR’s leader and presidential candidate, met with OVR’s number three official–St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev–to discuss the All Russia decision (Russian agencies, January 5). Several leading All Russia members, including Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov and Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev, openly called on Primakov to withdraw his candidacy and take instead the post of speaker of the next State Duma. Sources close to Primakov were quoted as saying that the former prime minister needed time to think things over (Russian agencies, January 6).

For his part, Vladimir Zhirinovsky reaffirmed yesterday that he will run for president, and his Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) is likely to confirm his candidacy during its eleventh congress, which opens today in Moscow. While Zhirinovsky predicted that Putin would have no real competition on March 26, the ultranationalist leader said that he hoped at least to beat Zyuganov and Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky (Russian agencies, January 6). Yavlinsky, meanwhile, said in an interview yesterday that it is “not serious” to talk about any real competition to Putin in the March 26 vote. “But,” he added, “in Russia there are many millions of people who do not want to vote for Zyuganov or for Putin. These are people who do not want a continuation of the system which has existed in Russia over the last ten years, and who cannot today say with certainty that Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin will change that system.” Yavlinsky also said that he would run for president in order to “show the vector of change which is necessary for Russia.” This change, he said, includes fighting corruption and “an end to the bloodshed in Chechnya” (Radio Ekho Moskvy, January 5).

The March 26 election is therefore beginning to look like the contests held in some of the Central Asian states–or, at any rate, in some of Russia’s less democratically developed regions and national republics. Indeed, Kalmyk President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who regularly wins his elections with more than 90 percent of the vote, said this about Putin’s prospects on March 26: “There are no real competitors. I think someone will register though, so that the elections won’t be canceled for lack of an alternative” (NTV, January 5). Ilyumzhinov supported the Kremlin-founded, pro-Putin Unity movement in last month’s State Duma elections.