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Zyuganov proposes coalition government

Just over a week before his fate will be decided, Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov yesterday turned another page in his otherwise unusually low-key election campaign play-book by increasing the stakes attached to his offer to form a Russian coalition government of "national trust".

Mr Zyuganov, who is trailing Mr Yeltsin in the opinion polls, outlined a scheme to form a government in which no fewer that a third of the posts would be occupied by the existing administration - the same regime that he was hotly denouncing as impostors only weeks ago.

On the surface, his move is yet another attempt to widen his vote, amid growing evidence that he cannot recruit enough support from the 107 million potential electorate to win next week's run-off unless the turn-out drops sharply - an outcome not entirely impossible. On 16 June, he won 32 per cent of the vote, about 3 per cent less than the President. He is trying to undermine the wave of anti-Communism whipped up by his opponents (state- controlled Russian television has been bombarding viewers with movies about the gulag) by distancing himself from his Communist-nationalist roots, and recasting himself in a different mould.

His new role is that of a compromising peace-maker in a land riven by conflict and instability - a fact underlined by a Kremlin power struggle last week which led to the sacking of four leading hawks, including the Defence Minister, Pavel Grachev.

Announcing his latest plan in Moscow yesterday, Mr Zyuganov said he was trying to avert an "all-embracing collapse" of Russia by finding common ground across the political spectrum. He proposed setting up a Council of National Accord, representing "all influential political forces, public and non-government structures", which would appoint the government of "national trust". A third of the posts would go to his "national-patriotic" bloc; a third to other parliamentary factions, and a third to the current government.

Last night his aides produced a list of those whom he would like to take part, which included some improbable names: the liberal economist, Grigory Yavlinsksy (whose party agreed at the weekend to do all it can to keep the Communists out); Yuri Luzhkov, the newly re-elected mayor of Moscow, and a staunch Yeltsin supporter; and neo-nationalist, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who has also come out against Mr Zyuganov's bloc.

Although Mr Zyuganov's proposals are likely to fall on stony ground in the Kremlin, he does have more leverage that at first appears. The Communist Party dominates the State Duma (lower house of parliament), which has the right to veto the appointment of the prime minister.

Although the hugely powerful Mr Yeltsin can ultimately ignore parliament, he is unlikely to want a repetition of the stand-off which ended with the bombardment of the White House in 1993. Mr Zyuganov's manoeuvrings are rumoured to coincide with even more elaborate attempts at behind-the- scenes negotiating over the post.

This may help explain why Mr Zyuganov appears to have reined back his campaign, preferring to stay in the capital.

But this is also partly because Mr Zyuganov and his Communist-nationalist bloc wants a low turn-out, knowing he cannot win many more votes than the 24 million he attracted in the first round. It makes more sense to lower the volume of political debate before the run-off, knowing that most of the Communists' supporters will always go to the polling booths, but that anti-Communists may not.