Russian Federation Faces Crucial Decision
Meet The Candidates
Russian presidential elections are scheduled to be held on June 16, 1996. President Boris Yeltsin was elected on June 12, 1991, and his 5-year term began the day of his inauguration, July 10, 1991.
Registration of initiative groups and electoral blocs nominating presidential candidates ended on March 2, 1996. Candidates will have until April 15, 1996, to register with the Central Electoral Commission. Under the law on presidential elections, candidates must collect at least 1,000,000 signatures, with no more than 70,000 signatures from any one region of the Russian Federation.
Unless one of the candidates captures more than 50% of the vote in the first round, there will be a runoff. (At least 50% of the people registered to vote must show up in order for the elections to be valid.) In the runoff, the voters will have to choose between the two top candidates, and whoever gets more votes than the other candidate, wins. The winner’s presidential term will be 4 years.
As of February 20, 1996, 46 candidates were nominated by initiative groups and electoral blocs. The top presidential candidates in alphabetical order are: Alexander Lebed, Grigory Yavlinsky; Boris Yeltsin; Vladimir Zhirinovsky; Gennady Zyuganov. The following is an analysis of each of the top five candidates, one of which will undoubtedly win the presidency.
Lt. Gen. Alexander Ivanovich Lebed (ret.) traded his military uniform for a politician’s suit on May 30th, 1995, resigning his position as the commander of the 14th Russian Army based in Moldova. By the beginning of the summer, he was one of the most popular politicians in Russia. He is a charismatic figure whose dry wit and brusque, no-nonsense style sets him apart from most of the familiar faces of Moscow’s political elite. Lebed is now running for election to the Duma from a district in Tula, where he commanded an airborne division from 1988-1991. He is also the second candidate on the Congress of Russian Communities’ national party list. The 45-year-old Lebed gained a spot in the Duma after the December elections, and became a competitor in the 1996 presidential race. One widely cited poll from last July showed that if Lebed and Yeltsin faced each other in a runoff, Lebed would garner 38% of the vote and Yeltsin only 8%. But, as potential Russian voters became more familiar with him, his popularity fell to less than 10%.
Lebed has participated in most of the former Soviet Union’s and Russia’s military conflicts for the last fifteen years. He fought in Afghanistan in 1981-82. During the 1991 coup, Lebed was sent with his troops from Tula to occupy Moscow. He helped to prevent an attack on Yeltsin’s headquarters in the White House of Russia, although he later claimed that he did not take sides during the conflict, and would have carried out a direct order to take the White House. In the confrontation between Yeltsin and the Supreme Soviet in September-October 1993, Lebed rejected appeals for help from both camps, declaring that the military should remain neutral in such situations.
Many voters see Lebed as an honest and effective patriot who can stop the collapse of the government while curbing crime and corruption. Lebed also appeals to Russian voters as an outsider who is not responsible for the mess made by the Moscow elite. In another bizarre twist of the campaign, Lebed has joined the leftist Popular Power, the Duma faction led by former USSR Prime Minister Nikolai Ryzhkov.
Yavlinsky was born on April 10th, 1952 in the Western Ukrainian city of Lvov, into a family of a Russian army officer and a chemistry lecturer. Between 1976 and 1989, Yavlinsky occupied a number of research and managerial positions at the Institute of Coal Industry Management, the Research Institute of Labour, and the USSR State Committee for Labour and Social Issues. He is married with two sons.
The star of Grigory Alexeyevich Yavlinsky rapidly ascended in July 1990, when Boris Yeltsin appointed him deputy chairman of the RSFSR Council of Ministers and the chairman of the State Commission of the RSFSR for Economic Reform. Yavlinsky thus found himself in a position to try to launch his “500 Days” plan, which was the first openly declared economic reform program in Soviet history. However, Yavlinsky’s project fell foul of the political standoff between Yeltsin and Gorbachev, at the head of the Russian Federation and USSR respectively. Yavlinsky resigned on October 17th, 1990. That was a still bigger sensation: a deputy prime minister voluntarily stepped down because there was no chance to implement his ideas! Anything of this kind was unheard of in the Soviet corridors of power.
In 1991, Yavlinsky put together an ambitious reform plan with Graham Allison of Harvard University, the “Grand Bargain,” which posited Western aid in return for Moscow implementing radical market reform. However, this attempt also ended in failure, when the USSR quietly died in December 1991.
Yavlinsky is usually counted among the proponents of market-oriented economy. A highly qualified economist, Yavlinsky is also a skillful polemicist who has a refined sense of humour and a remarkable talent to strengthen his arguments by vivid metaphors. Having lived through a series of failures, he became, perhaps, less charming and more rigid in his style, but he is undoubtedly a charismatic leader. His charisma is based on his image of an “honest and decent” politician who heads a democratic opposition to a pseudo-democratic regime. He has emphasised a direct link between the economic reform and the development of a “new federalism” for Russia. In his view, Russia should be revived “from below,” by the way of horizontal integration of regions whose economies are interdependent. Economic coordination with the former Soviet Republics has also been part of Yavlinsky’s platform.
The economic reforms conducted by the government of President Yeltsin and Prime Minister Chernomyrdin are seen by many Russians as having had serious negative consequences. Crime has increased beyond all expectations and organized crime is now a serious obstacle on the way of economic recovery. The Gross National Product has fallen rapidly, unemployment has risen several times. Living standards of most Russians plummeted, and one-third of the population now lives below the poverty line set at about $60 per month. In the meanwhile, in a sign of disparity unknown under communists, 10% of the adult population earn 28% of the money.
In January, 1996, Yeltsin launched an unpopular massive military operation in which surface-to-air missiles and artillery were used to resolve a hostage crisis. Yeltsin said that he hoped the Chechen war would be concluded before the presidential elections. He asserted that he could not just pull the troops out, because in the case of Afghanistan, once the troops were withdrawn, “civil war flared up with new force.”
In 1995, President Yeltsin suffered two heart attacks. Despite health problems and low ratings, Boris Yeltsin officially announced on February 15, 1996 that he will seek a second term. The president said that he did not want to leave office when the future of reform still hangs in the balance.
Zhirinovsky was born in 1946, in the city of Alma-Ata. He started his political career in 1988, and went on to become a founder of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia. The stunning success of the LDPR in the December 1993 parliamentary elections lifted its leader to international fame. Zhirinovsky’s success astonished both Russian and Western observers. The scale of the victory was staggering.
The LDPR’s “unique uncorrupted status” among Russia’s political parties remains a constant theme in Zhirinovsky’s speeches. His outburst during a Duma delegation visit to Kaliningrad was typical: “Everyone is corrupt, everyone is linked to foreign intelligence services, mafias and so on. I am the only one clean.” When the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia nominated Vladimir Zhirinovsky, he asked President Yeltsin to napalm all Chechen rebel bases and promised to do so himself by July 1st if elected. He also said the LDPR was the true winner of the Duma elections, since the victory of the Communist Party was only its “swan song.”
Gennady Zyuganov was born in the village of Mymrino, Orel region, in 1944. In 1990, Zyuganov played an active part in creation of the RSFSR Communist Party. He demonstrated his skills of an organizer by restoring the Communist Party from scratch and winning competition among the leftist movements. In December 1995, the Communist Party won 22.30% of the party list vote and 34.89% of the Duma seats (157). Their faction is the largest in the new Duma. According to Zyuganov, as in October 1917, Russia stands at a crossroads, facing an unpopular war, the absence of fair land reform, ethnic conflicts, and inadequate state regulation of the economy.