Protest vote promotes a poser: Zhirinovsky's poll success owes more to Russian disenchantment with reform than to his own wild promises. Nationalism: The trump card

VLADIMIR Kimbarovsky, the architect of perhaps the most spectacular of last weekend's electoral disasters, offers many reasons for what went wrong: the local newspaper cut the best bits from an article he wrote last summer; the council refused office space and a telephone; police did nothing to stop a hypnotist mesmerising voters at the Aurora Cinema.

But does this really explain why Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a man widely regarded as a lunatic, won 36 per cent of the vote, nearly three times more than his nearest rival in a six-way contest for Constituency 114?

Mr Kimbarovsky, campaign manager for a reformist candidate who staggered in a distant third, thinks hard, lights a cigarette and spits out what he considers to be the only possible explanation for such a fiasco: 'There are a lot of very stupid, very uneducated people.' The vote was lost, he explains, because of 'lumpen-proletariat and ignorant marginals'.

He does not think it has anything to do with the way he ran the campaign for Russia's Choice, the main pro-reform bloc headed by the economic shock-therapy guru Yegor Gaidar, whose economic message delights Western economists but baffles most Russians. Nor does Mr Kimbarovsky imagine his own background - sacked tax inspector and amateur poet - inspires anything other than absolute confidence.

If aggressive nationalism does take hold of Russia, it will be due as much as anything else to the arrogance and bickering of the would-be reformers, many of whom seriously believe they lost because of the hypnotic power of a television faith healer called Anatoly Kashpirovsky, who was not even in Russia for most of the campaign.

Few places offer such fertile ground for angry and possibly fascist protest as Shchyolkovo Constituency, a string of muddy towns with names like Red Army and Jubilee, secret defence factories, bankrupt space research centres and crumbling military bases hidden in forests 35 miles northeast of Moscow. Security posts still turn back unauthorised cars. A rusty MiG fighter on a concrete stump looms over the main road.

It was here that Mr Zhirinovsky won his greatest personal triumph last Sunday. Opponents are stunned and blame everyone but themselves. Mr Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party won about 24 per cent of the vote nationwide. In Shchyolkovo, though, he went head-to-head in a constituency race, and won hands down. His nearest rival, the head of the local administration, Nikolai Pashin, received only 13 per cent, less even than the 15 per cent who trudged all the way to the polling stations in driving snow to put an X in a box indicating that they that disliked all the candidates. Shchyolkovo is a sour and deeply unhappy place.

Mr Zhirinovsky has no ties to the constituency. He never lived here and spent most of the campaign in Moscow. He claims he chose it by sticking a pin in a map. Like most of what Mr Zhirinovsky says, the story is more fairy tale than fact. He loves playing the buffoon, waving lingerie at his last rally and vowing to keep bra prices down; having his picture taken with grungy rock stars; dancing shirtless at a discotheque.

Little, though, is ever left to chance. Some 40 per cent of voters in the constituency work in defence, either researching weapons, making them or using them. No group has lost quite so much in Russia's stagger towards the market, and no group has been cultivated so assiduously by Mr Zhirinovsky.

He promises an aggressive export drive for Russian arms to spare military factories the shame of making tumble dryers instead of tanks. His vow to restore Russia as a superpower goes down well with disgruntled officers shivering with their families in a single room.

According to national voting figures for party lists, the military gave Mr Zhirinovsky's party stunning support. Among the strategic missile forces, which control Russia's nuclear arsenal, it won 72 per cent of the vote, compared with 6 per cent for Russia's Choice. The Kantemir tank division, which shelled parliament on 4 October for President Yeltsin, gave it 74 per cent.

The military is angry, but not yet crazy. It, too, has doubts about Mr Zhirinovsky. Voters in Shchyolkovo voice little support for his vision - emblazoned on his party's emblem - of a Russia stretching from Alaska to Finland and deep into Asia. They have narrower concerns.

Anatoli Ovsemyov, a worker in an arms factory, worries about his factory closing down. 'If America sells so many weapons, why can't Russia do the same?' At the Officer's Club at the Chkalovskaya air base, despair with Russia's Choice seems far stronger than support for Mr Zhirinovsky. They like his promise of better housing, cars for junior officers and free holidays in Cuba. But few want to see him as president. Or, at least, few are ready to admit it.

Yuri Simonov, 30, a former soldier now in the militia, says he voted for Mr Zhirinovsky because of a pledge to enforce all laws and regulations. This, he hopes, will include a rule that militia staff should be given a flat within six months of joining; he has been waiting for more than a year. He also thinks Russia could do with a firm hand for a while. 'We need someone who can rule. A little more order will do us good.' Is Zhirinovsky the man? 'No. If he gets to the Kremlin, it will be war.'

Workers and pensioners, the 'lumpen proletariat' so despised by Mr Kimbarovsky of Russia's Choice, voted for Mr Zhirinovsky as a protest, not because they want to conquer the world. Yuri Federniko, an unemployed builder ankle- deep in filthy slush as he waits for a bus, says he did it to get his own back on the 'capitalists'. His grudge is specific: a businessman hired him to build a dacha, then fired him when he needed time off to visit his sick mother. 'He is just a speculator, a thief.' A drunk old women, her face smeared with blood and clothes in rags, wobbles in the muck nearby, screaming hysterically and waving an emaciated frozen chicken.

The response of reformers to such confusion and rage is ominously similar to that of the Communists they used to taunt with such glee and defeated so resoundingly in 1990 and 1991. 'We ought to have won,' says Mr Kimbarovsky of Russia's Choice. So out of touch is he that he wants the state prosecutor to have the Shchyolkovo results overturned because the ballot paper described the main pro-reform candidate, Oleg Novikov, as a 'staff member of a government body' instead of giving his full title, 'Head of the Moscow anti-monopoly department, doctor (economics) and professor.'

This, believes Mr Kimbarovsky, made all the difference. 'It would not have changed a thing,' says Alexei Zvyagin, the local official who supervised the campaign. The result was clear all along, he says, ever since candidates started to organise rallies at the Aurora Cinema.

When Mr Zhirinovsky spoke it was standing-room only. When anyone else came, only 20 or so showed up. 'People are not against the idea of reform, but they are normal, they don't like lower living standards. Zhirinovsky promises to stop this. Of course, he can't, but he sounds convincing.'

One candidate who saw the writing on the wall was Igor Klochkov, former head of the country's main trade union. He pulled out of the contest before polling even started. Though no friend of President Yeltsin or the free market, he worries more about Mr Zhirinovsky in the Kremlin. 'Not only can he become president, he will if the collapse of the economy and impoverishment of the people continues. He will be the only one left.'

Mr Zvyagin, who had to attend all of Mr Zhirinovsky's rallies, is less convinced. 'He promised everything. He used to say, if you elect me on 12 December, everything will start getting better on the 13th. People love this. But look. It is now almost a week. Life is not any better yet for anyone. He will find reasons, of course, but everyone has reasons.'

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Lou Reed distorted the truth about his upbringing, and since his death in 2013, biographers and memoirists have added to the myths
musicThe truth about Lou Reed's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the Apple Watch for you? Well, it depends if you want for the fitness tech, or the style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own