Yeltsin still hopes to cling to power

Russian elections: Despite success of Communists, president has chance yet of winning a second term

PHIL REEVES

Moscow

As he pored over voting figures behind the walls of his country sanatorium, Boris Yeltsin yesterday must have longed for a celebratory nip of vodka. True, they were no triumph, but Russia's parliamentary elections could have been worse. Ill and unpopular he may be, but the President's chances of winning a second term are not dead yet.

Although the Communists emerged as the most popular party with an estimated 22 per cent of the party-based vote, their victory fell short of a fundamental shift in Russia's political terrain, despite the misery suffered by many millions on the path to economic reform.

Fears that Russians have despaired of democracy altogether, and may soon elect another authoritarian leader, are so far still unfounded.

At the 1993 elections to the relatively powerless State Duma, the Communists had 13 per cent and the far-right Liberal Democratic Party had 22.9 per cent of the party-based vote. The assembly huffed and puffed, but did little, as Mr Yeltsin ruled by decree. This time around the numbers have simply switched around.

The Kremlin clique, anxious not to be called to account over their shady privatisation deals, is likely to view the results as a sign they may yet be able to use the ballot box to hang on to power. They will be gleeful over the fate of the nationalist Alexander Lebed, whose Congress of Russian Communities fizzled out. The popular Afghan war hero may yet mount a strong presidential campaign, but he has not had the roar-away start that many expected.

The political battleground now switches to next year's presidential race. Mr Yeltsin's prospects look better than before: the pro-government vote, for Our Home Is Russia, did not collapse (it stood at 9.6 per cent last night). And he has several cards up his sleeve.

For instance, he will probably reshuffle his Cabinet, kicking out his whipping-boy, the Foreign Minister, Andrei Kozyrev, who has won a seat as an MP. The International Monetary Fund is expected soon to grant another big loan to Russia, funds which will allow the Kremlin to try to garner some votes by ploughing money into some of Russia's most severely neglected areas - the army, schools, power supplies. And he will be helped by the economy, which is out of its nosedive.

However, time is short. The first round of the presidential election is on 16 June, after which the two top candidates go to a run-off, unless one of them is an outright winner with more than 50 per cent (an unlikely scenario). The biggest danger facing Mr Yeltsin is that he will fail to make the second round, because the pro-reform vote is split, not least because of competition from the liberal economist Grigory Yavlinsky, of Yabloko, which was running fourth yesterday. If Mr Yeltsin (or, if he's too ill, possibly the Prime Minister, Viktor Chernomyrdin) squeezes through, and faces a Communist candidate, he would have a chance of victory. Although well-organised, the Communists have yet to expand their nationwide base significantly beyond their elderly core followers. Mr Yeltsin, on the other hand, would harvest the vote of everyone who fears the shadow of the Soviet past.

For all its success, the Communist Party is also internally divided between unreconstructed Marxist-Leninists and "new" Communists who bear far more similarity to social democrats than to any of their flag-flourishing fore- fathers. And if Gennady Zyuganov, the party leader, is their presidential candidate (yesterday he fudged questions about it), he will have to raise his game considerably. Although an impressive speaker, he still lacks sparkle.

If Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the flamboyant neo-fascist whose Liberal Democratic Party was running second last night, makes it to the second round against Mr Yeltsin, the President's chances would be better still. Many who enjoy Mr Zhirinovsky's titillating escapades and wild anti-Western rhetoric may be happy to vote for him in parliament, but will have second thoughts when it comes to handing him the presidency.

But there is a nightmare scenario. What if no pro-reform candidates get through to the final round, and Russians are offered a choice, say, between a hard-line Communist candidate and Mr Zhirinovsky? Time to dust off the history of the Weimar Republic.

Main parties' share of the vote

Party 1995 % 1993 %

Communist 21.9 12.4

Liberal Democratic 11.1 22.9

Our Home is Russia 9.6 n/a

Yabloko 8.4 7.9

Democratic Choice of Russia 4.8 15.5

Women of Russia 4.5 8.1

Congress of Russian Communities 4.3 n/a

Working Russia 4.2 n/a

Party of Svyatoslav Fyodorov 4.1 n/a

Agrarian Party 3.0 8.0

Other parties scored less than 3%. Overall turnout was about 65% compared with 53% in 1993, the commission said. Source: Reuter

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before