Publication: Prism Volume: 2 Issue: 3

Russia: All Eyes Focus on June

by Gleb Cherkassov

The break between the end of the election campaign for the State Duma and the beginning of the preparations for the upcoming presidential elections was very short, precisely as long as the New Year’s Day holidays. As a matter of fact, those who took part in the election campaign for the Duma viewed it as merely the first stage of the presidential election campaign which was supposed to identify serious candidates and sift out those who were planning to run by force of habit or as the result of overweening ambition.

It is difficult to say to what extent these expectations have been realized. Due to the excessive number of party slates, very few of the parties had a real chance of entering the new Duma. The results of the elections have confirmed that Grigory Yavlinsky, Gennadiy Zyuganov and Vladimir Zhirinovsky are serious candidates for the presidency. At the same time, the prospects of Aleksandr Lebed and Svyatoslav Fedorov appear less favorable. They did manage to be elected to the Duma, not as part of party slates, but only from single member districts. The popularity of the famous General (now in reserve) and eminent eye surgeon turned out to be insufficient to help their parties surmount the 5 percent barrier. As far as Aleksandr Rutskoi, Boris Fedorov, Stanislav Govorukhin, Ella Pamfilova and Boris Gromov are concerned, their chances of replacing Boris Yeltsin in the Kremlin appear negligible in light of the fact that their parties received a miserable 1-2 percent of the vote in the State Duma elections.

Nevertheless, all the above mentioned politicians have decided to enter the presidential race. Apparently, the results of the elections to the Duma have taught them nothing and so we must conclude that the Duma elections have failed to become real "primaries," capable of eliminating some of those who aspire to the country’s highest post.

There is another reason why the elections cannot be regarded as "primaries." Significantly, Boris Yeltsin, who is definitely one of the major candidates for the top office in the Kremlin, did not take part in the State Duma elections. Although he made no announcement, only a few persons doubt that he will take part in the race. It is difficult to draw any conclusions about Yeltsin’s popularity at this point. The showing of the "Russia Is Our Home" bloc in the elections is of little help because many of those who support Boris Yeltsin backed other parties while many supporters of the "Russia Is Our Home" bloc and personally of Viktor Chernomyrdin will never vote for Boris Yeltsin.

The first campaign moves by President Yeltsin have taken many by surprise, both among the broad public and the President’s entourage.

In the brief space of two weeks, the president fired three men whose names had long been associated with the democratic process and economic reforms in Russia; Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev, former senior vice premier Anatoly Chubais and former presidential administration head Sergei Filatov. Their offices have been given to the politicians with the reputation of being anti-liberal hard-liners.

The second unexpected move by the incumbent president was the bloody resolution of the Kizlyar-Pervomaiskoye hostage crisis. Without doubt the storm of the settlement where Salman Raduyev and his men were entrenched was carried out with Yeltsin’s approval. In this sense, he rejected (both verbally and practically) the experience of Viktor Chernomyrdin who, in a similar situation, managed to come to terms with the Chechen terrorists and avoid a massacre.

The third unexpected action by Boris Yeltsin has been his decision to demonstrate publicly a friendly attitude towards Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, who has been openly critical of the course pursued by the Russian government recently.

Judging by all indications the president has decided to try to change his image and to rely on other parts of the electorate, specifically those who backed neither the democrats nor the Communists in the parliamentary elections. He is obviously aware of the fact that part of the democratically oriented public will back him whatever he does if it comes to choosing between him and Zyuganov and Zhirinovsky. But he apparently has been strongly impressed by the results of the past State Duma elections where the majority of the voters supported candidates of both the constructive opposition and the irreconcilable opposition.

In his election campaign, Boris Yeltsin definitely plans to rely in the first place on the executive power structures. The recent order of Transport Minister Vladimir Fadeev to his subordinates to collect signatures on Yeltsin’s nominating petition has already become the subject of discussion at a plenary meeting of the State Duma.

But while seeking to win over voters, Yeltsin and his entourage have not forgotten to protect their "rear." Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin has been practically squeezed out of the presidential race. The majority of functionaries of his movement have already begun working for Boris Yeltsin’s election campaign; in the meantime, the premier himself has been forced to announce that he will not run for president of Russia. It cannot be ruled out that Mr. Chernomyrdin will have to resign, however, this may only occur after the procedure of registration of presidential candidates is completed.

There have recently been a lot of rumors that the president’s structures have worked out a plan according to which the incumbent president and LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky will enter the second round of the presidential elections. Presidential analysts believe that if events take such a turn Mr. Yeltsin will be backed by not only his supporters but also by those who consider him to be the lesser evil compared to Zhirinovsky. One way or another, the LDPR and its leader have received substantial financial support recently. Several hundred thousand dollars are expected to be spent on the upcoming celebration of Zhirinovsky’s fiftieth birthday, which is also supposed to mark the opening of Zhirinovsky’s election campaign.

The candidate nominated by the Communists will almost certainly be a strong candidate in the upcoming presidential elections. In all probability this will be KPRF leader Gennady Zyuganov. However, Zyuganov’s situation has recently been complicated by the pressure exerted by radical Communists both within and outside the KPRF. Therefore, Mr. Zyuganov will have to maneuver between the orthodox Communists (who are eager to take revenge for the defeat they sustained in the early 1990s) and the moderately disposed public who consider Mr. Zyuganov to be a sensible alternative to Boris Yeltsin. The situation of the KPRF leader may become worse if the plan is implemented that calls for the Communists to nominate several candidates for president. Each of these nominees will carry out his propaganda campaign until the very last week and eventually all of them will withdraw throwing their support to the most popular Communist candidate. Nobody can guarantee today that Mr. Zyuganov will in this case be recognized as the most popular Communist nominee.

Not a smaller problem for a candidate nominated by the KPRF will be the one presented by Working Russia (a radical Communist movement) which has nominated its leader Viktor Anpilov as a presidential candidate. Mr. Anpilov can divert part of the Communist electorate from the KPRF thus diminishing the chances of the left to enter the second round of the presidential race. Moreover, Mr. Anpilov will probably attract many KPRF activists to assist him in his campaign work — this will definitely be a great loss for Mr. Zyuganov or any other leftist candidate.

The position of Grigory Yavlinsky is even shakier than that of a Communist candidate. The Yabloko leader is currently looking for people to collect signatures on his nominating petition who would be capable of organizing a more successful campaign for him than during the State Duma elections. For your information: In 1995 Yabloko received approximately the same number of votes as in 1993 in spite of the fact that this time Grigory Yavlinsky enjoyed the benefit of being regarded as a clear "favorite" in the democratic wing and his movement enjoyed all the advantages provided by the existence of its own parliamentary faction. Therefore, Mr. Yavlinsky obviously needs to amend his political strategy and tactics and to win allies over to his side. Perhaps he will be able to enlist the support of some members of Russia’s Democratic Choice (the latter party recently refused Boris Yeltsin their support but have not found any other candidate yet). Far from all of the members of Russia’s Democratic Choice members agree with Yegor Gaidar in his decision to support Viktor Chernomyrdin.

Aleksandr Lebed is also busy looking for organizations that could help him in the upcoming presidential elections. The Congress of Russian Communities [KRO] (on the slate of which Aleksandr Lebed ran for a seat in the Duma) is experiencing a crisis today. KRO leader Yuri Skokov is accused by his own cohorts of having deliberately undermined the party at the behest of the presidential structures. Nevertheless, Lebed is not going to leave the ranks of the KRO for the time being; the rumors that Mr. Lebed plans to ally with Stanislav Govorukhin do not appear trustworthy.

In general, in its initial stage, the presidential elections campaign is very reminiscent of the State Duma elections campaign: A wide variety of candidates three quarters of whom do not have the slightest chance to win are preparing to run which means that the vote will again be spread in a thin layer over the entire length of the political spectrum. By the way, the Central Elections Commission, seeking to avoid a repetition of the situation where 43 election blocs took part in the elections, is preparing to subject the signatures collected on the nominating petitions to a most comprehensive examination in order to help weed out the "unserious" candidates.

Translated by Aleksandr Kondorsky

Gleb Cherkassov is a commentator for Segodnya.