Publication: Prism Volume: 2 Issue: 9

Yeltsin and Zyuganov Search for Coalitions

By Gleb Cherkassov

In the period since the elections to the State Duma, the Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov has managed to become not simply a KPRF candidate, but the candidate of a coalition of "people’s patriotic forces." It greatly surprised many analysts that Mr. Zyuganov was nominated for president not by the KPRF but by an obscure group of supporters, while the KPRF limited itself to endorsing Zyuganov’s nomination.

The KPRF leadership has been well aware of the fact that the Communists, able to win a relative victory in the State Duma elections and able, together with their allies, to form a parliamentary majority, lack the support necessary to win a presidential election. The KPRF received only a little more than 20 percent of the votes in the State Duma elections. Adding the votes of their closest allies gives them a little more than 30 percent; but 50 percent + 1 is required to win the presidential election.

To gain the necessary majority for Zyuganov, the Communists aim to create the illusion that his campaigning for president as the leader of the entire opposition. It is for this reason that a campaign to collect signatures under the agreement "On Supporting Gennady Zyuganov as Candidate of the People’s Patriotic Forces" was launched. Within one month, more than 100 public organizations and some 50 individuals (actors, writers and other representatives of the creative intelligentsia) signed the document. Among the influential parties and movements that have signed the documents are the Agrarian party, the "Derzhava" movement led by Alexander Rutskoi (who refused to run for president), radical Communists Viktor Anpilov and Oleg Shenin, and the All-Russian Officers Assembly led by the very popular general in reserve Vladislav Achalov. However, the majority of the organizations which have pledged to support Gennady Zyuganov for president are not very authoritative and are not well-known among the general public. Judging by the results of the recent opinion polls Gennady Zyuganov’s public support rating remained stationary during the past month, at about 27 percent.

Regardless of how reliable the results of these polls are, Mr. Zyuganov will definitely enter the second round of the election while his major rival, Boris Yeltsin, will have to work hard to outpace the remaining contenders. During the past two months the president did everything possible to gain additional popularity. In the process, he has again demonstrated his remarkable ability to sense a political situation and to turn the most unfavorable circumstances to his advantage.

Adding the opposition’s slogans to his armory, Yeltsin has become even more of a statist than Vladimir Zhirinovsky, even more a champion of social justice than Gennady Zyuganov, and even more of a democrat than Grigory Yavlinsky. By signing an agreement with Belarus on establishing a Community of Sovereign States (SSR) Boris Yeltsin took a trump card out of the hands of the opposition, who had accused him of engineering the Soviet Union’s collapse. Yeltsin devoted specific attention to the country’s pressing economic problems, specifically to the problem of delayed payment of wages and pensions. Sacrificing financial stabilization and a number of other economic concerns, the president’s team, together with the government, has succeeded in having the withheld wages paid off. The president has managed to dissociate himself from all the existing parties and movements and is trying, not without success, to emerge as a "father of the nation" and the "president of all Russians" who is far from narrow-party ambitions. The Chechen conflict remains the weakest point in the incumbent president’s pre-election position. Back in February, Boris Yeltsin stated that his reelection depended completely upon establishing peace in the North Caucasus. Boris Yeltsin did make an attempt to resolve the Chechen crisis, but his peaceful initiative has so far produced no positive results, and has given rise only to a new intensification of the military actions.

As usual, the incumbent president began his large-scale political campaign with a purge of his team, while shifting the blame for all mistakes on those designated for removal. Thus, former senior vice premier Anatoly Chubais was blamed for the delayed wages. In demonstration of his dissatisfaction with Russia’s foreign policy, Boris Yeltsin forced Andrei Kozyrev to resign. The president’s head of administration Sergei Filatov, who aroused steady aversion among both the regional elites and the majority of Moscow’s political establishment was also forced to resign. Those chosen to replace Kozyrev, Chubais and Filatov, however, have so far made no significant corrections to the policies pursued by their predecessors. Kozyrev, Chubais and Filatov all have remained employed in the President’s team: they have now been assigned to concentrate on Boris Yeltsin’s election campaign.

The threat of a Communist victory has helped Boris Yeltsin consolidate his entourage and the whole first echelon of the executive branch. Boris Yeltsin’s team has managed to take control of national television. The ORT (Ostankino Channel 1) has long been controlled by the authorities and stood on fairly pro-president positions. Recently, the control has been strengthened. During the last few weeks, ORT news and comment programs were full of Yeltsin campaign ads, while very little (and often distorted) information was released about his rivals. It cannot be ruled out, however, that propaganda in favor of the incumbent president, if continued this way, may provoke a negative reaction among the democratic public and affect the results of the upcoming ballot to the detriment of Boris Yeltsin.

"Russian Television" (Channel 2), though sticking to its pro-Yeltsin position, has so far preserved a liberal tone in its broadcasts. Since NTV (Independent Television) general director Igor Malashenko joined the president’s campaign, news programs on this channel have become noticeably pro-Yeltsin, although they are much milder compared to the ORT.

According to unofficial sources, people from Boris Yeltsin’s closest entourage have already managed to convince the country’s major bankers that detrimental consequences might follow for Russia in general and for banking in particular if they give strong support to Boris Yeltsin’s rivals, especially Zyuganov. Boris Yeltsin’s envoys reportedly simply told them that the Communists rely on their "own" commercial structures which have long supported the KPRF, and these commercial structures will enjoy the most favored position if the Communists come to power.

Somewhat more problematic is the situation with the regional political elites. They wait for the "scales" to tip toward one side or another and then join the winner. At present, the presidential team is actively working with the governors to try to convince them to make the right choice as soon as possible.

But Boris Yeltsin could not afford to rely solely on the executive power structures: In order to win, the incumbent president needs the support of the general public and of political organizations. The creation of the All-Russian Movement for Public Support of Boris Yeltsin (RMSY) has helped to unite all the pro-Yeltsin parties and movements. According to some assessments, the RMSY currently embraces representatives from 25 election blocs and associations that took part in the last State Duma elections, including groups that were recently in opposition to the president. Finally, it is not of minor significance that the Russian Orthodox Church has declared its support of Boris Yeltsin.

The accomplishments of the past few weeks have allowed Boris Yeltsin’s entourage to behave as if they have already won the election. However, it appears that their optimism is premature.

Boris Yeltsin still has to prove to the voters that he is the right man to run this country. What he has done during the recent several months is perceived by the public as fulfilling his previous election promises. In order to receive a new "mandate of confidence" Boris Yeltsin has to do something more.

An additional factor is that, unlike Gennady Zyuganov, Boris Yeltsin is not a sole candidate from his flock, the flock of anti-Communist and non-Communist forces. In addition to him, those aspiring to be the leader of all non-Communists are Grigory Yavlinsky, Aleksandr Lebed and Vladimir Zhirinovsky. However, Yavlinsky and Lebed have so far not been officially registered, while Mr. Zhirinovsky, acting in his usual way, is in no hurry to show his "cards" and is preparing for a "blitzkrieg."

Translated by A. Kondorsky