Publication: Prism Volume: 1 Issue: 26

The outcome of the parliamentary elections in Russia: Why is Yeltsin smiling?

by Aleksandr Zhilin

The election results, even though still preliminary, aroused quitea bit of excitement as the communist victory was broadcast innews headlines around the world last Monday. These headlines didnot, however, disturb Boris Yeltsin– he received precisely whathe wanted.


According to the information released by Central Elections Committeesecretary Aleksander Vishnyakov, the results of the ballot countin 134 election districts (as of December 20th) shows the communistswith 21.5 percent of the vote according to the party lists, plus49 deputies elected from the single-member districts. Zhirinovsky’ssupporters ranked second, having received 10.8 votes by the partylists. Only one candidate from the LDPR won the elections in thesingle-member districts.

Viktor Chernomyrdin’s "Russia is Our Home" received9.7 percent of the votes, placing it third. Supporters of theprime minister won in 10 single-member districts. Yavlinsky’sYabloko won 7.7 percent of the party lists vote; 12 representativesof this movement won the election in the single-member districts.

The remaining parties did not reach the 5 percent threshold requiredto enter the Duma: Women of Russia, the "Communists for theWorking Russia," Yegor Gaidar’s Russia’s Democratic Choice,and Yuri Skokov’s and Alexander Lebed’s Congress of Russian Communities,all failed to garner enough votes.

The Predictions Were Right — Nearly

The decisive victory of the communists in the elections did notsurprise any serious analysts. Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinskyhas made the accurate observation that the current governmentdid everything possible to ensure that the communists would win:The rapid decline in the standard of living, accompanied by anunprecedented rise in corruption among the authorities,has hadan important moral and psychological impact on voters. Inthese conditions, it is not surprising to find substantial radicalismin the country. This phenomenon is typical of countries whichhave suffered a sharp economic stagnation.

At the same time it would be a mistake to overestimate the popularityof the communist ideology in Russia. The results of a number ofsociological studies and my personal polls indicate that muchof the population voted against the present government, not forthe communists. The voters are understandably frustrated thatthe current regime has done nothing to dispel the serious socialcrisis which have engulfed Russia for a long time. This also explainswhy Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s Liberal Democratic Party of Russia(LDPR), once again fooling the analysts who said he was an "outsider,"did well at the ballot boxes. That the LDPR come in second inthe elections testifies to the fact that the social crisis inRussia is actually deep and rampant.

The failure of the Congress of Russian Communities (KRO), ledby Yuri Skokov and Aleksandr Lebed, has surprisef many analysts.The Russian nationalist forces and military-industrial complexleaders appeared to have been solidly supporting this party. Someof the mistaken analysts hurried to explain that this politicalparty just lacked time to gain popularity, especially in the regions.While a poorly run campaign may explain in part the low levelof support for KRO, it does not alone tell us why this theoreticallypopular party turned out to be a political outsider.

In my personal opinion, one problem was that most of KRO’s electionadvertising was based on Aleksandr Lebed’s personal popularity.And if Lebed alone had been the focus of their advertising, theymight have been successful. They could have used him as a "workhorse"to pull the "cart" of the KRO into the Duma. However,KRO added Yuri Skokov. He has the reputation of being a "darkhorse" and many associate him with the conservative forcesof the military-industrial complex. Another leading KRO figurewas Sergei Glaziyev, who scared away many voters by describingthe movement’s economic program in a very complicated and unintelligiblemanner.

. The result: the load was too heavy for the "workhorse"Lebed to pull. Lebed ran ahead, leaving the KRO cart behind him.This will no doubt have an impact on future relations betweenSkokov and Lebed– specifically how the CRC will organize itspresidential campaign.

The Future Course of Reforms

Analysts are prone to believe that there will not be any sharpchange in Russia’s economic course as a result of these elections.There are a number of factors which lead to this conclusion. First,the existing constitutional order in Russia provides for the presidentto have the main levers of state power in his hands, regardlessof the situation in the Federal Assembly in general and StateDuma in particular. And in fact, the country does not have toomany options for economic maneuvering.

Second, the Law on the State Budget for 1996, which was passedby the outgoing parliament, determines the main economic parametersfor the next 12 months. It is unlikely that the new Duma willbe able to introduce amendments to the budget–primarily due toprocedural obstacles. Russia has obligations under agreementswith international financial organizations on which it dare notrenege, since her external financial sources contribute more than32 trillion rubles to the budget. Therefore, if the most obstreperouscommunists decide, while pursuing their political goals, to thoughtlesslyincrease the state allocations to social services at the expenseof increasing the budget deficit, the results would be devastating.If they did so, the already-austere budget would lose the InternationalMonetary Fund’s support. And if the IMF were to refuse to grantcredits to Russia, the government would be forced to put out moremoney–with catastrophic results.

Third, the structure of Russia’s economy is becoming increasinglyoriented toward the export of raw materials and semi- finisheditems. Therefore, economic demarches by the leftists can resultin considerable reduction of export income, further aggravatingsocial problems.

Fourth, the industrial-financial groups which have formed in Russiaand which have already become fairly strong, are not interestedin any drastic aggravation of the political and economic situation.These groups enjoy a fairly large influence with the domesticpolitical and economic processes. The fact is that the leadersof the Communist party understand that any moves which exacerbatethe economic situation may well result in an outbreak of a crisisin Russia’s financial system.

Nevertheless, the elections bring serious new challenges to theexecutive branch. With an eye to the upcoming presidential electioncampaign, Boris Yeltsin will definitely try to introduce correctionsin the course of reform, specifically to provide more funds tosocial needs, while seeking to simultaneously preserve an anti-inflationcourse tbrough rigid financial policy. The latter attempts willin all probability result in changes in the tax rates and strictmeasures against the monopolists and malicious tax dodgers.

It is difficult to say at this point whether or not Boris Yeltsinwill succeed in these goals. He is likely to face opposition fromwithin his own government, not just from the new Duma, since manygovernment officials have "delicate" financial relationswith the economic circles (i.e., are corrupt). These bureaucratswill try hard to thwart Presidential initiatives which might threatentheir economic interests.

Why is This Man Smiling?

As we have learned from some of the president’s closest advisors,Boris Yeltsin is all-in-all satisfied with the election results,even though the victory of the communists does not promise himanything positive. In fact, as we have managed to learn, the electionresults did not come as a surprise to the president, because hehad excellent forecasts in advance. These predictions were preparedfor him by the FAPSI (President’s Agency for Communications andInformation Security). I saw this document myself and I can testifythat it contained very precise estimates with regard to all themajor parties and blocs. (The unsolved mystery is how the FAPSI,a very secret government structure, managed to come up with suchaccurate forecasts.)

Why is Yeltsin satisfied with the election results? Primarilybecause the people he viewed as his primary rivals for the presidencyturned in poor performances at the polls. People close the presidenthave said that it was Viktor Chernomyrdin’s clear victory thatBoris Yeltsin feared most of all, since the prime minister wouldmost likely have been a rival in the upcoming presidential elections.Clearly an unusual relationship has developed between these two.When Yeltsin was taken to the hospital in October, he initiallyrefused to receive the prime minister, saying, "Viktor Chernomyrdinmust not see me lying in a hospital bed."

After the elections, Yeltsin got a strong trump card, which hehas already, delicately, begun to play. "The people,"he can say, "do not support Chernomyrdin. We weren’t ableto make a politician out of him. But he’s a good manager. Lethim run the government and take care of economic problems forthe time being, and then we’ll see." That is, the presidentis letting people know that from now on, the prime minister’sfate depends on the president’s will, and naturally, on Chernomyrdin’sown behavior.

In addition, the defeat of the Congress of Russian Communitieshas definitely cheered up the president. Recently, Boris Yeltsinhad been looking at Aleksandr Lebed with fright in his eyes, sinceLebed had become a potentially strong rival for the presidency.In addition, the defeat of KRO was important for Boris Yeltsinbecause it has given him increased leverage over Yuri Skokov.The latter has definitely not given up his ambitions to become,if not president, then at least a more influential person. Nowthe president has acquired the opportunity to influence Skokovbecause the latter is without public support, an obvious politicalfailure.

Deserving special attention are the relations between the presidentand Mr. Zhirinovsky. As it has come to light at the meeting ofthe Federal Security Service Collegium (at which Mikhail Barsukovwas introduced as the new director of the FSB) the presidenthinted that Mr. Zhirinovsky had fulfilled his task and that itwas high time for him to finish his political career (for moreon this topic, see November 3, 1995 issue of Prism: "VladimirZhirinovsky: A Scarecrow in Yeltsin’s Garden?" by AleksandrZhilin.) However, it was later decided that Zhirinovsky shouldremain afloat so that the LDPR could absorb part of the voteswhich could otherwise be cast in favor of the communists. Zhirinovskyhas made the grade. As a man whom the prsident can completelycontrol, the LDPR leader will continue to pursue, confidentiallyand with the help of his faction, the president’s policy in theDuma

This is precisely the role Zhirinovsky has placed during the lasttwo years. Therefore Chernomyrdin’s bloc and the LDPR are Yeltsin’smajor allies in the Duma, and they can be expected to providesome counterweight to the communists. However, the recent appearanceof a chink in the armor of the LDPR could weaken this faction.According to information leaked from inside the LDPR, AleksandrVengerovsky, who has been Zhirinovsky’s right hand man in theparty, has staged a plot against his boss. According to informationat our disposal, plans exist to have Zhirinovsky removed fromthe post of the LDPR leader and to dissociate from him on thebasis that he is an odious figure undermining the party’s prestige.If this happens, it will be difficult to forecast what policythe LDPR will pursue. However, it can be said for certain thatin such an event the LDPR will definitely cease to be Boris Yeltsin’ssupporter. In all likelihood those secret services which, as someinformation which has come to light has indicated, have been "breeding"Zhirinovsky as Yeltsin’s secret ally, will not permit such eventsto occur. The point is that a split in the LDPR will inflict seriousdamage on the pro-presidential forces in the Duma.

Sources close to the Yeltsin administration remark that Yeltsin’smost dangerous rival in the Duma is not Communist Party leaderGennady Zyuganov, because Zyuganov has hinted that it is alwayspossible to come to terms with the president. But Grigory Yavlinsky,on the other hand, refuses to discuss any possibility of a compromisewith the president. It is precisely for this reason (accordingto information at our disposal) that Zhirinovsky has receivedthe order to launch an obstreperous campaign against Yavlinskyand his party, Yabloko.

It is too early to forecast what balance of political forces willform in the future Duma. Its first meetings will definitely bedevoted to the Chechen problem, and from these meetings we willlearn more about how the "political spiders" coexistin the same"jar."

As far as Yeltsin’s optimism is concerned I think it is unrealistic.Chernomyrdin’s failure in the election is indicative of the president’sown political bankruptcy. It therefore appears that the only possibleway for Boris Yeltsin to remain in office for a second term isby unconstitutional means.

Aleksandr Zhilin is the National Security Issues Editor forMoskovskie novosti.