Elections Heat Up, Yeltsin Returns to Hometown for Campaign Finale
YEKATERINBURG, Russia (AP) _ Boris Yeltsin returned to his hometown today for the grand finale of his presidential campaign, just two days before Russians decide between him and a Communist challenger.
Yekaterinburg _ the Ural Mountains city where Yeltsin launched his campaign in a poorly received announcement in February _ gave an enthusiastic welcome to its newly energized native son.
``We must not retreat,″ said Yeltsin, who appeared before thousands of applauding supporters with his wife, daughters and grandchildren. ``We must stay together, and then we’ll surely win, we’ll certainly win.″
But a new poll released today suggested victory in Sunday’s election was not that certain. Pollster Nuzgar Betaneli put Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov ahead with 35.6 percent of voter support, compared to 32.7 percent for Yeltsin.
Although the lead is questionable given the 3 percent margin of error, other polls in recent weeks have put Yeltsin in the front.
Russian newspapers ran front-page, banner headlines today endorsing their favorite candidate and included passionate appeals fitting to this highly emotional race, Russia’s first post-Soviet presidential election.
Most Russians see the vote as a choice between Yeltsin’s reforms and the Soviet past, symbolized by Zyuganov.
``Vote for Democracy,″ said the Kuranty newspaper, which ran a huge photo of Yeltsin. Several others, including the popular daily Moskovsky Komsomolets and the presidential administration paper Rossiiskiye Vesti, had similar headlines.
But Pravda, the Soviet-era Communist Party mouthpiece, said, ``Vote for Zyuganov or You’ll Lose the Future: Yours and Russia’s.″
In Yekaterinburg _ where Communists killed Russia’s last czar, Nicholas II, and his family in 1918 _ the streets were lined with Yeltsin campaign posters and the Russian flag.
``We have to think not only about who we are electing today, but about Russia in the year 2000,″ Yeltsin said, according to the Interfax news agency.
Security was tight in Yekaterinburg following a bomb threat at the regional government building, and an unsuccessful attempt to set fire to cars in the city subway.
Violence has marred the election campaign this week. Two regional officials were murdered, and a bomb killed four people in the Moscow subway, an event many say was election-related.
Despite some disillusionment with the president, support for Yeltsin seemed high.
Svetlana Zhuravlyova sells pastries in the street to augment her salary at a failing defense plant, which has only given her half-pay for the past few months.
Yet she won’t vote for the Communists; she’s supporting Yeltsin.
``I don’t want any more changes. The Russian people are sick of experiments,″ she said.
Four months ago, a defiant and defensive Yeltsin announced he would seek a second term in a long speech to unenthused dignitaries. The mood contrasted with a huge, near-euphoric Communist rally for Zyuganov’s nomination.
But Yeltsin’s popularity has climbed in recent months, and he won an upbeat reception at a huge rally and concert in St. Petersburg on Thursday, as he delivered a forceful speech against his hard-line foes.
In a lengthy television interview Thursday, the president admitted that the war in Chechnya was a mistake but urged Russians to vote for him to prevent civil war.
Employing his favorite ``red scare″ tactics, Yeltsin warned that a Zyuganov would finish reforms, bring the nation to poverty and result in mass violence.
Speaking to reporters in Yekaterinburg, he denied his campaign manager’s suggestion that his post-election Cabinet would include some of the ousted members who pioneered his free-market policy in 1992.
``That’s not true,″ Yeltsin said, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency. ``The Cabinet makeup will be seriously changed. New people with new fresh ideas will come so as to to act in a new different way.″
The Moscow government announced today that it will offer free public transport on election day for the many city dwellers who spend weekends at their dachas, or country cottages, to encourage them to come back to town to vote.
Voters in the warring republic of Chechnya opened voting today. The Moscow-backed Chechen government spread the elections for the presidency and local parliament over three days, in hopes of boosting turnout.
Russians living in the North Korean port city of Chongjin also cast ballots today, one of the earliest votes by the more than 500,000 Russian voters living abroad.
Russian law bans mail-in balloting, so diplomats in more than 100 nations are opening polling places for Russians living abroad and delivering ballots to Russians at sea.