Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 186

In the wake of Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov’s hints that he is preparing a presidential bid, State Duma speaker Gennady Seleznev all but threw his hat into the ring Thursday. Echoing Luzhkov’s comments from last week, Seleznev said he was prepared to assume the leadership of a new “left-center” coalition in the walk-up to parliamentary and presidential elections, which are scheduled for 1999 and 2000, respectively. Seleznev, a top official in the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) also took aim at Luzhkov, questioning his qualifications for leading a left-center bloc. “If it were a right-center bloc, I would understand that,” Seleznev said. But Yuri Mikhailovich [Luzhkov] is as distant from the left-center as I am from the post of the pope in Rome” (Russian agencies, October 8).

Seleznev’s near-announcement was not a surprise for many observers. Ex-Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Shokhin said the Duma speaker had been planning a presidential bid for several months already, and had just been waiting for the right moment to announce it (Russian agencies, October 8).

Over the last several years, Seleznev, who during the Soviet period edited the newspapers Komsomolskaya Pravda and Pravda, has shown great tactical flexibility, moving from apparent Communist orthodoxy to a much more “pragmatic” approach. In 1996, following a trip to North Korea in 1996, Seleznev said that people there were eating grass, not because they were starving, but because “their culture is higher than ours.” Only a year later, President Boris Yeltsin presented Seleznev with a second-level order for services to the Fatherland in honor of his contributions to Russian parliamentarianism.

KPRF leader Gennady Zyuganov reacted cautiously to Seleznev’s comments, calling him “intelligent” and “competent” while refraining from endorsing him. Zyuganov said that KPRF will choose a presidential candidate in an upcoming party congress. The Communist leader, on the other hand, said his party “supports” Luzhkov, and that it is ready to work with Grigory Yavlinsky, head of the reformist Yabloko movement (Russian agencies, October 8).

All this suggests a merging split within the Communist ranks–over who will lead the pragmatic, “social democratic” wing that a number KPRF leaders and rank-in-file would like to see emerge. Indeed, members of the party’s radical wing appeared to welcome this split: Viktor Ilyukhin, head of the Duma’s security committee, said Seleznev’s announcement was a “very alarming symptom” for Zyuganov, because it means his authority has been “devalued” and the inner circle now understands he has no chance to win the 2000 vote.