Communist strongman benefits from protest vote

Russia's Communist leader, Gennady Zyuganov, complained yesterday of vote rigging in the presidential election, although he might have been expected to be pleased with his achievement in capturing most of the protest vote against the inevitable winner, Vladimir Putin.

Election night turned out to be more exciting than the campaign, as for a few hours it seemed that Mr Zyuganov might have pushed Mr Putin into a second round. In the event, the acting president did win outright, with just over 52 per cent of the vote. But with his result of nearly 30 per cent, Mr Zyuganov showed that he had managed to attract more than his usual following of elderly voters nostalgic for the Soviet Union.

Almost certainly, those extra voters were protesting at the way in which the retired president, Boris Yeltsin, gave unfair advantages to his chosen successor. Emerging from polling stations on Sunday, a number of Moscow voters said that they were angry at the lack of healthy competition.

The rest of the protest vote went to the liberal Grigory Yavlinsky, who came third with nearly 6 per cent, and to "Ivan Against-Them-All", as anarchistic voters jokingly described the option of rejecting all 11 candidates. In an impressive result for the nihilists, "Ivan" came sixth, ahead of the rightist, Konstantin Titov, and Ella Pamfilova, the only woman in the race.

The strong performance by the Communists, tenacious in Siberia and "red belt" farming areas bordering Ukraine, suggested that to some extent Russia was still agonising over the merits of communism and capitalism, a debate between the older and younger generations. But in this poll, a person voting Communist was really expressing disapproval of Mr Yeltsin, who slid into corruption, and the fear that Mr Putin was a continuation of Mr Yeltsin.

Yavlinsky supporters were more likely to have been concerned about the threat to personal and press freedom and human rights that any crackdown by Mr Putinmight bring.

The new president, who will keep his existing government team until his expected inauguration on 5 May, was modest in victory and said he was open to co-operation with his former rivals.