Russia's Communists seek coalition deal

Zyuganov wants to build bridges ahead of the election run-off, writes Phil Reeves in Moscow

The Russian Communist leader, Gennady Zyuganov, yesterday sought to increase his vote before the run-off in the presidential elections, while also hinting that he might be willing to do a deal with President Boris Yeltsin.

In an effort to recruit voters from beyond the core of his party faithful, Mr Zyuganov promised to form a coalition government which would include representatives from every strata of society, including officials working in Mr Yeltsin's administration.

After months of being portrayed as a die-hard revolutionary by the Kremlin'spublicity machine, he also explicitly distanced himself from his party roots by saying that he and his Communist-nationalist bloc never sought to rebuild Communism in Russia.

In recent months, Mr Zyuganov has increasingly spoken about forming a "government of people's trust" but yesterday he stressed its all-encompassing character by arguing that it would be neither Communist nor nationalist, but a cross-section of all Russia.

"We will be engaged with everyone," he said yesterday, "No one can go it alone in Russia today. There are those who backed Yeltsin; there are those who backed [Alexander] Lebed. The only way out is to form a coalition government, and to develop a clear-cut programme, a legislature that permanently controls the executive branch, and greater responsibility for executives at every branch."

On Sunday, he won about 23.6 million votes, some 2.3 million less than Mr Yeltsin and roughly half a million less than the Communist-nationalist vote in December's parliamentary elections. To break the 50 per cent barrier in the run-off, he needs to attract up to 15 million more voters - unless the turn-out drops sharply from last Sunday's 70 per cent.

Although he stands a reasonable chance of winning some votes from the ultra-nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky (who got 4.3 million) and General Lebed's 11 million electorate, he faces a huge task. This may explain the signs that he is beginning to blink as the final show-down approaches.

Yesterday Mr Zyuganov seemed to acknowledge the possibility of defeat by saying that "whoever comes to power must realise that a single political force cannot manage alone", but will be "obliged to express the actual political sentiments of the people". At the same time, he refused to rule out the possibility of accepting the post of prime minister, were Mr Yeltsin to offer it - suggesting that he is open to doing a deal with the Kremlin.

Whether Mr Yeltsin, who has mounted an increasingly anti-Communist campaign, would entertain any kind of deal with Mr Zyuganov, is a different matter. On Tuesday he successfully concluded a pact with General Lebed whom he appointed secretary of the all-powerful Security Council and national security adviser after the retired general came third.

It is far from certain that this manoeuvre, which also included sacking the unpopular Defence Minister, Pavel Grachev, will mean that the majority of Lebed votes will go to Mr Yeltsin. But it is none the less a setback for Mr Zyuganov. Yesterday the Communist leader met General Lebed, but appeared to emerge empty-handed.

Mr Yeltsin's campaign inched further forward yesterday. While neither Grigory Yavlinsky, the liberal economist who won 7.4 per cent of the vote, nor Mr Zhirinovsky endorsed the President, they both advised their supporters not to vote Communist. The renowned eye surgeon, Svyatoslav Fyodorov, who won only 700,000 votes but remains widely respected, also said he would back Mr Yeltsin.

In yet another sign of unusual co-operativeness, Mr Zyuganov supported the Kremlin's bid to hold the run-off on 3 July, which the government has declared a public holiday. The Yeltsin team want to hold it soon because they need a high turn- out to be assured of victory, knowing that - unlike their voters - the Communist supporters always tend to go to the polls.

The risk of a low turn-out is increased by a host of factors: many Russians leave on holiday on 1 July; there is a weariness with elections; up to 5 million students, who lean towards Mr Yeltsin, also go on vacation soon and will be even less inclined to vote than usual.

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