Yeltsin-Zyuganov Head for Runoff in Russian Election
MOSCOW (AP) _ Facing a crucial runoff election, Boris Yeltsin and his Communist opponent vied today for the support of a tough former general whose backing could decide who will be the next president of Russia.
Yeltsin met in the Kremlin with Alexander Lebed, who became the most sought-after man in Russian politics by finishing a strong third in Sunday’s first round of voting. The two men discussed prospects for cooperation, said Sergei Medvedev, the president’s spokesman.
Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov offered Lebed the job of prime minister in a future government, hinting the former paratrooper and Afghan war hero would suffer if he did not accept.
Yeltsin was slightly ahead in counting of ballots from Sunday’s voting. But he and Zuganov each got only about a third of the vote from angry and worried Russians who have serious doubts about Yeltsin’s reforms and Zyuganov’s embrace of the Soviet past.
With 89 percent of the vote counted, 35 percent of voters were backing Yeltsin, whose democratic reforms have also spawned crime and corruption. Zyuganov, who promises a Russia with global might and the controlled economy of the Soviet era, got 32 percent, the Central Election Commission reported.
A runoff was tentatively set for June 30.
A visibly satisfied Lebed told Russian Television his strong performance was a personal victory and that he would disclose soon whether Yeltsin could count on his support. Some Yeltsin aides suggested Lebed could be the president’s eventual successor.
The political novice voiced a desire for a government job that would ``enable me to organize the struggle with crime, to prevent extreme forces _ right or left, no difference _ from plunging the country into the depths of bloody chaos.″
To win the runoff, both Yeltsin and Zyuganov need the backing of Lebed’s supporters, who gave him a solid 14 percent of the vote, easily outdistancing reformist economist Grigory Yavlinsky and ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky in the 10-man race.
Yeltsin could offer Lebed the defense ministry or a job as deputy prime minister with control of all security forces. Yelstin aide Alexander Shokhin suggested that Lebed could get a job ``specially created for him.″
Zyuganov, who has long had his eye on Lebed, moved quickly to try to secure his support. Communist ally Mikhail Lapshin, head of the Agrarian Party, said Zyuganov would offer the gruff ex-general the prime minister’s job in the event of a Communist victory in the runoff.
Zyuganov said no formal offer had been made and warned that Lebed’s political career would be seriously damaged if he joined the Yeltsin government.
Yeltsin’s presidency _ and Russia’s free-market reforms _ may be riding on whether he can coax an endorsement out of Lebed that could help deliver his projected 10 million-plus votes.
``Victory in the second round will happen only if a coalition (with Lebed) actually happens and if turnout stays the same or goes up,″ Vyacheslav Nikonov, Yeltsin’s chief campaign analyst, told Russian Public Television.
By law, a runoff must be held within 15 days of the release of final results. Alexander Ivanchenko, deputy head of the Central Election Commission, said the runoff was tentatively set for June 30.
Yavlinsky, who stood fourth with 7 percent, also will be courted by Yeltsin although many of his supporters are all but certain to vote for the reform-minded president.
Zhirinovsky, who finished third behind Yeltsin in the 1991 presidential election, stood fifth with 6 percent. Many of his backers are likely to shift to Zyuganov.
None of the other five candidates got even 1 percent. Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev got only 0.52 percent, a testament to the tremendous unpopularity of the man many Russians hold responsible for the breakup of the Soviet Union and the chaos that followed.
Undaunted, Gorbachev said today he planned to form a new political movement. It was unclear what that was supposed to achieve.
In the Moscow mayoral race, Yeltsin ally Yuri Luzhkov, who has presided over a construction boom that has transformed Russia’s capital, was re-elected with nearly 90 percent of the vote.
About 70 percent of Russia’s 106 million voters cast ballots.
In a television address to the nation this morning, Yeltsin said the choice in the next round was ``crystal clear″ and urged voters to unite behind him.
``Either backwards to revolutions and shocks, or forward to stability and well-being. Today as never before, we must be united,″ said Yeltsin, speaking in a strong clear voice.
Sunday’s voting followed a bitter campaign, offering what many voters found to be only unpleasant choices. But election day passed without riots, coups, widespread voter fraud or violence.
The dramatic changes that have taken place in Russia since the Soviet collapse in 1991 have created a new wealthy class, but have driven many into poverty. Crime and corruption have flourished and Yeltsin has been unable to end an 18-month-old bloody war in breakaway Chechnya.
Zyuganov appealed to those dispossessed by the reforms and those yearning for order.
``I am a pensioner, and it is a hard life,″ Nina Yesimova, 62, said after casting her vote for Zyuganov. ``My pension is 400,000 rubles ($80) a month. I can’t live on it.″
``If the Communists win it will be all the horror of before,″ said Alexandra Milyana, 70, describing her father’s arrest and disappearance in Stalin’s purges of the 1930s. ``I’m old, but I can’t go back.″
International monitors said no serious voting fraud was reported.
``The first round of the election took place in a just and honest atmosphere on the whole,″ he said, according to the Interfax news agency.
U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said the observer team from the International Republican Institute ``didn’t see any pattern that would indicate widespread problems.″
But campaign financing and spending, and the favoritism of the media toward Yeltsin during the campaign were troubling, he said.
``Both the election and the runoff will be the litmus test as to the true function of democracy in Russia,″ McCain told reporters.