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Russia: The Run-Off

Wednesday, July 3 is the day. Russians will decide whether to keep the incumbent, populist-centrist Boris Yeltsin, in office or to bring back a Communist head of state in the person of presidential challenger Gennady Zyuganov. The two remaining candidates face each other in a run-off after the initial balloting last month, in which Mr. Yeltsin attracted 35 percent of the total vote and Mr. Zyuganov captured 32 percent.

A Complicated Choice

Boris Yeltsin
It is a complicated choice. A vote for President Yeltsin means a vote for continued economic reforms, including more privatization of industry and increasing foreign investment. It means a repudiation of Russia's three-quarter-century Communist tradition, so tainted with the blood of purge victims and failed economic experimentation. It means a reaffirmation of the fragile, new democratic tradition that Yeltsin and others have tried to nurture.

A vote for Yeltsin also means the continued insecurities of a burgeoning capitalist system that has lavishly rewarded the entrepreneur -- and often the charlatan -- while impoverishing millions. It means uncertainty about whether or not the nation's shocking wave of violent crime, including rampant organized crime, can be controlled. It means prolonging the tenure of a president who is mercurial, of dubious personal ethics, and, at age 65, in questionable health -- a circumstance that came to renewed attention over the weekend with a report that Yeltsin had missed an important meeting in the Kremlin. His spokesman explained that the president had lost his voice as a result of a hectic speaking schedule, but this explanation did little to quiet rumors about Yeltsin's health.

Gennady Zyuganov
A vote for Gennady Zyuganov, Yeltsin's opponent, is a vote for relative youth; Zyuganov (b. 1944) represents a new generation of Russian leadership, much as the accession of former Communist Party chief Mikhail Gorbachev represented a generational change eleven years ago. A vote for Zyuganov is also a vote for a president who -- at least as far as is publicly known -- is untarnished by the personal flaws of Yeltsin.

Perhaps most importantly, from the perspective of Mr. Zyuganov's supporters, the Communist candidate stands for a return to an ethic of relative economic equalitarianism. Time and time again, Zyuganov voters tell reporters how difficult life is for them now. They speak, if not nostalgically, at least in terms less disparaging, of their economic status under Communist rule. Food, they say, might not have been plentiful, but it was affordable; housing was in short supply, but government subsidies and rent control made apartments cheap; and the gap between rich and poor was far less glaring than it is now.

Stay Tuned

For detailed election news direct from Moscow, visit the site of Russia's National News Service, in English or Russian (if you have the proper software). For a load of background information on the Russian election, connect to Russian Presidential Elections - 96, a Magellan 3-star Web site.

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For news about Russia on an ongoing basis, turn to the Maximov searchable news index. And for analysis, try Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Posted July, 1996.
© Copyright 1996 OBS