Russian Election: Yeltsin Running Scared
djohnson at cdi.org
Mon May 27 06:27:59 MDT 1996
From: austgreen at glas.apc.org ( )
Subject: Russian elections: Yeltsin running scared
#RUSSIAN ELECTIONS: YELTSIN RUNNING SCARED
#By Renfrey Clarke
#MOSCOW - Is Russian President Boris Yeltsin about to romp home
an easy winner in the country's presidential elections, pulling
in the support of previously uncommitted voters and overwhelming
his main opponent, Communist Party of the Russian Federation
(KPRF) leader Gennady Zyuganov?
#That might be the impression gained from a superficial glance
around Russia's political scene at the end of May. It seems to
have represented the thoughts of the investors, many of them
foreigners, who spurred a dramatic boom on the Moscow stock
market during the second half of the month.
#The share-buying frenzy was fuelled by voter surveys indicating
a sudden leap in Yeltsin's popularity. Previously the underdog,
the incumbent president is now seen as likely to come in slightly
ahead of Zyuganov in the first-round voting on June 16. In the
July 7 run-off between the two top vote-getters, most of the
surveys predict, Yeltsin will open up a substantial lead.
#These results may be all the proof needed by stock-market
speculators. But Yeltsin and his campaign strategists show few
signs of believing the pollsters' predictions. Various actions
and statements by the president and his close associates suggest
that on the contrary, Yeltsin is running very scared indeed.
#A number of simple facts show why the survey results must be
treated with skepticism. Opinion surveys in Russia are normally
based on telephone polling. But many Russians have understandable
misgivings about telling an unfamiliar caller that they oppose
the government and plan to vote for the opposition.
#Moreover, relying on telephone interviews in Russia almost
inevitably means that the sample of respondents is heavily
skewed. Telephones in Russia are not the several-per-household
fixtures they are in the West. In the small towns and villages
where tens of millions of Russians still live, few people enjoy
such amenities. Even in urban areas, large numbers of households
lack telephones. The people most likely to be without them - or
to be unable to pay the bills and keep their lines connected -
are people on low incomes, including workers who have not
received their wages.
#Country people and the urban poor, meanwhile, are among the
Russian citizens most likely to vote for the KPRF. Telephone
polling in Russia therefore tends to create a quite inaccurate
picture of voter intentions, tilting the results strongly to the
right. An even broader potential for error appears if we take
into account the fact that country people are among the social
layers that traditionally have the highest participation rates in
#This situation is no secret to political scientists. But it has
generally gone unmentioned by right-wing journalists gleefully
reporting survey results that have Yeltsin ``on a roll''.
#Yeltsin's political analysts are as aware as other specialists
that their candidate has only a mediocre chance of outpolling
Zyuganov in the first-round vote. They can also be assumed to
understand that the predictions of an easy majority for Yeltsin
in the run-off vote are next to worthless.
#Unimpressed either by Yeltsin or Zyuganov, more than a third of
voters are expected to choose other candidates in the first round
of voting on June 16. Pro-Yeltsin commentators argue that in the
second round on July 7, these voters will switch heavily to
supporting Yeltsin in order to keep the Communist candidate out
#However, that is to ignore the fact that electors who support
Yeltsin only with reluctance, as a lesser evil, will have another
option on July 7 - going off to water the potatoes on their dacha
plots, and staying away from the polling stations. The readiness
even of anti-communist Russians to cast ballots for Yeltsin is
less than it might seem. A recent report by the Expert Institute
of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs made the
important point that Yeltsin's negative rating - reflecting the
proportion of electors who would refuse to vote for him in almost
any circumstances - was exceptionally high at some 50 per cent.
The corresponding figure for Zyuganov was only about 25 per cent.
#The same study described Yeltsin's chances in the second round
as ``not very good'' because his core of committed supporters
amounted only to some 10 to 12 million voters, out of a likely
total of 70 million. Zyuganov's base of ``left traditionalists''
was much larger at 22 to 24 million voters.
#In late April, the effect of this situation was to make leaders
of Russia's nomenklatura-capitalist elite wonder whether the
elections should be allowed to take place at all. On April 27
thirteen prominent bankers and industrialists issued a public
appeal in which they called for a compromise between Russia's
competing political forces, noting the possibility of violence
and warning pointedly that elections would not solve Russia's
#The unsubtle hint in this document was soon taken up by the
Yeltsin camp. Speaking to a correspondent of the London
<I>Observer<D> on May 1, Yeltsin's security chief and close
confidant General Alexander Korzhakov stated: ``A lot of
influential people are in favour of postponing the elections and
I'm in favour of it too, because we need stability.'' On May 5
Korzhakov repeated these sentiments to the news agency Interfax.
#Public reaction to Korzhakov's statements was hostile, and the
president moved quickly to shoot down the trial balloon.
Korzhakov was subjected to a televised dressing-down. The
elections, Yeltsin insisted, had to take place as planned. The
president and his backers then moved into a phase of intensive,
#In its minor symbolic aspects, Yeltsin's scrabble for public
favour has been more comic than sinister. In his May 9 Victory
Day speech in Moscow, the president addressed his listeners using
the Soviet-era form of address <I>tovarishch<D> - ``comrade'' -
more than 20 times. The red flag was restored to a place of
honour as the Victory Flag of 1945, to be flown alongside the
tricolour on ceremonial occasions. On May 16 Yeltsin announced
partial compensation for savings bank deposits wiped out by
hyperinflation. But he limited this to citizens over the age of
80 years, while male life expectancy is now below 60.
#There is nothing amusing, however, in the juggernaut of demagogy
and disinformation now rolling over the Russian airwaves. The
English-language <I>Moscow Times,<D> which reflects opinion in
expatriate business circles, editorialised on May 14:
#``Over the past several weeks news broadcasts on the three major
television stations - ORT, RTR and NTV - have come more to
resemble paid political advertising for the incumbent president
than any attempt at impartial news coverage.''
#A sign of things to come was the coverage by Russian television
stations of Yeltsin's visit early in May to the city of
Yaroslavl, north-east of Moscow. While foreign news sources
described how the president was booed and hissed by pensioners
and unpaid workers, the Russian networks showed only adoring
#Major events in Zyuganov's election campaign have been covered
by the television networks, but often in derisive or alarmist
fashion. When interviewing the Communist candidate, television
journalists who are almost bashful with government leaders have
turned abusive and bullying.
#Communists in Russia know what to expect from the pro-Yeltsin
media, and the general bias of the press and television against
Zyuganov has raised less anger on the left than a series of
``dirty tricks''. On May 16 the liberal Moscow daily
<I>Komsomolskaya Pravda<D> headed its front page with extracts
>from a supposed Communist ``program of emergency measures''.
Swiftly denounced by KPRF officials as ``a fake from beginning to
end'', this called for ``creating full state controls over the
financial and banking system and over incomes and the circulation
of goods and money.'' Dollars held by individuals were to be
exchanged for rubles at a tenth of current rates, and clamps were
to be reimposed on foreign travel.
#Also in mid-May, the provincial <I>Amurskaya Pravda<D> ran a
faked ``interview'' with Zyuganov, apparently aimed at fomenting
splits within the KPRF. Zyuganov was quoted as saying he would
not feel obligated as president to carry out ideas suggested by
``odious'' colleagues within the Communist leadership. After
first appearing in <I>Amurskaya Pravda,<D> the text was quoted
widely by media outlets elsewhere in Russia.
#Zyuganov and his colleagues have tried to match this offensive
with scandalous revelations of their own. On May 12 the Communist
candidate charged that Yeltsin during March had tried to win the
support of the government for measures that included dissolving
the lower house of parliament, declaring a state of emergency and
cancelling the elections. But as well as being clumsy and
unconvincing, this effort has suffered from the refusal of pro-
Yeltsin news editors to quote statements by KPRF leaders except
in tones of heavy irony.
#A far more dire threat to Zyuganov's campaign than media
slanders is the prospect of dirty tricks in the election tally
rooms. The likelihood of the Yeltsin camp using widespread fraud
in the elections has been a common theme in pro-KPRF newspapers;
now, this topic is being addressed in the English-language Moscow
press as well.
#Large-scale electoral falsification is nothing new in post-
Soviet Russia. Analysing the figures from the December 1993
referendum on Yeltsin's ultra-``presidential'' draft
constitution, political scientists from Yeltsin's own apparatus
concluded that massive irregularities had occurred, and that
contrary to official claims, the constitution could not have been
#To prevent flagrant ballot-stuffing, the Zyuganov camp plans
this time to mobilise 200,000 poll-watchers to observe all the
97,000 polling places. However, there is little the KPRF can do
to check on how the local voting tallies are added together to
produce the final result. Consequently, senior KPRF figures are
pessimistic that a majority vote for Zyuganov will be scored as a
#``I think the result of the election will in simple terms be
falsified,'' the head of the parliament's security commission,
Viktor Ilyukhin, was quoted as saying on May 23. ``I think the
president will not be elected, he will be appointed. He will be
appointed by the Central Election Commission.''
#Yeltsin should be taken quite literally when he insists, as he
has done repeatedly during his campaign, that Zyuganov ``will not
be allowed to win'' the presidential elections. The incidence of
fraud will probably not be massive - if this had seemed
necessary, the elections would have been cancelled. But
preparations will certainly be made for whatever degree of
falsification is required.
#At stake for the members of Russia's new elite is their
sometimes enormous personal wealth, cornered in the first years
of ``reform'' through favouritism, bribery, abuse of office and
straight-out theft. Zyuganov has made clear his reluctance to
challenge the results of privatisation if he becomes president.
Nevertheless, popular expectations would put enormous pressure on
him to launch investigations into the more flagrant cases of
illegal enrichment. Russia's new rulers need to stop such
inquiries happening at all costs. As has become clear during the
past few weeks, they will not let democratic principles get in
--- from list marxism at lists.village.virginia.edu ---
More information about the Marxism