RUSSIAN ELECTIONS; Could the map turn red again on Sunday?

It's too close to call between Yeltsin and his Communist rival in the race for the Kremlin, writes Phil Reeves in Moscow

Russian officials were yesterday completing preparations for the first presidential election since their country became an independent nation. Quite apart from the political issues at stake - and they are momentous - the scale of the event is of mind- boggling proportions.

The country's 107 million electorate, from reindeer herdsmen in the remotest reaches of the Arctic (some of whom have already voted, so far flung are their homes), to the chic urbanites of St Petersburg, will vote in 95,000 stations, spread across 11 time zones. While Muscovites are watching Saturday night movies on television, the citizens of Vladivostok will be in their polling booths.

Although there are 10 candidates, the issue to be resolved is whether Boris Yeltsin will remain in the Kremlin for a second term, or whether the hugely powerful President's office will pass to Gennady Zyuganov, the Communist leader. Both are expected to emerge from Sunday's contest with enough votes to place them in a two-horse run-off next month.

Neither will win the 50 per cent needed for outright victory.

Concern about fraud is such that the Communists claim to be planning to send observers to each voting station, an operation involving several hundred thousand people. The Yeltsin camp is also discussing similar measures, although on a smaller scale. And there will be hundreds of international and other independent observers.

Technically, rigging the ballot should be impossible. The law allows observers to watch every stage of the voting process. They can inspect voter lists, and are entitled to copies of the results protocols as they are passed from local to territorial election commissions, and then on to the Central Election Commission (CEC) in Moscow. This enables the contenders to conduct what amounts to a parallel count - which the Communists intend to do. But this is a complex, labour-intensive operation; there are strong doubts over whether they can pull it off.

In reality, some voting stations seem certain to go unmonitored, opening the way for a certain amount of falsification, either by pro-Yeltsin officials (who tend to occupy top regional jobs) or by the Communists (who control more than 30 per cent of local election commissions). Add to this the fact that regional power-brokers think little of applying pressure to those under their sway beforehand - the president of one republic has publicly guaranteed Mr Yeltsin 99 per cent of his population's support - and the process looks murky.

Although the CEC has 15 days to complete counting, the general picture will probably be clear by Monday. The first results from the far east are expected on Sunday night, but they are unlikely to be a reliable guide to the outcome. The region includes sweeps of near empty landscape, an electoral district more than four times the size of Britain, and has a reputation for maverick voting.

For the election to be valid, there must be a turn-out of at least 50 per cent. Surveys suggest it will be above the 63 per cent who voted in December's parliamentary poll. A high turn-out is critical to Mr Yeltsin. The Communist bloc's 20 to 25 million core voters will behave like American Republicans; they vote, come what may.

The President's support contains many more waverers. Two hurdles stand in their way. It is a summer weekend, when city dwellers, especially in pro-reform Moscow, head for their country cottages. And there is a Euro 96 football match between Russia and Germany.

So where will the election be decided? Russia's electoral history is so short that there is not enough data to draw many reliable conclusions by studying past form. That said, the Communists are strongest in the rural areas, particularly the southern "red belt". They tend to be weaker in the more populated north-west - with certain exceptions, like Smolensk and Pskov, which the Yeltsin camp admits it has no chance of winning. The pro-reformers can rely on the cities of St Petersburg and Moscow, plus loyalist republics like Tatarstan and Kalmyk.

What, then, should one look out for a the results trickle in? The Yeltsin campaign has high hopes of winning in a number of other areas which voted Communist six months ago, for instance, Nizhny Novgorod, Yaroslavl, Chelyabinsk and the regions of Moscow and Leningrad (the city of St Petersburg changed its name; the region has not). They also expect to take several others where the vote was fairly evenly spread, including Murmansk and Sverdlovsk.

Any sign that Mr Yeltsin has made progress in the Communist strongholds like Kemerovo (where 48 per cent voted Communist in December), Amur, Ulyanovsk, Kaluga, Oryol, and the Adygei Republic will be greeted with delight by the Kremlin. But there is potential for the unexpected. The lowly standing of the ultra-nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky in the polls is probably deceptive; in the past he has done far better than predicted; he is mounting a last-minute campaign, and could easily come third.

The Yeltsin team has been showing signs of over-confidence (some of his aides have even reportedly booked flights for holidays on the Black Sea between rounds) and the President may have made a mistake when he claimed he will win outright in the first round.This could all backfire, come Sunday.

Letters, page 17

The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised
Life and Style

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
First woman: Valentina Tereshkova
peopleNASA guinea pig Kate Greene thinks it might fly
Brian Harvey turned up at Downing Street today demanding to speak to the Prime Minister

Met Police confirm there was a 'minor disturbance' and that no-one was arrested

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Life and Style
The charity Sands reports that 11 babies are stillborn everyday in the UK
lifeEleven babies are stillborn every day in the UK, yet no one speaks about this silent tragedy
Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)

Parties threaten resort's image as a family destination

Life and Style
Northern soul mecca the Wigan Casino
fashionGone are the punks, casuals, new romantics, ravers, skaters, crusties. Now all kids look the same
Life and Style

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

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

Year 5 Teacher

£80 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Year 5 Teacher KS2 teaching job...

Software Developer

£35000 - £45000 Per Annum Pensions Scheme After 6 Months: Clearwater People So...

Systems Analyst / Business Analyst - Central London

£35000 - £37000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Busines...

Senior Change Engineer (Network, Cisco, Juniper) £30k

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Senior Change ...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Salisbury ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities

The city is home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, along with the world’s oldest mechanical clock
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album