Russian Election: Yeltsin Running Scared

David Johnson djohnson at
Mon May 27 06:27:59 MDT 1996

From: austgreen at ( )
Subject: 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
Russian elections.
#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
of office.
#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,
no-holds-barred campaigning.
#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
legitimately adopted.
#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
Zyuganov victory.
#``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
their way.

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