For Some, Yeltsin’s Not Just the Best Choice _ He’s a Good One
MOSCOW (AP) _ Boris Yeltsin’s picture is taped to the refrigerator inside Sveta Uridiya’s hotdog stand in central Moscow, a sign of her affection for the president.
``For me he’s good,″ said Uridiya, 45, as she sold beer and Cokes on Pushkin Square. ``He gives us the possibility to work for a living.″
Many voters who picked Yeltsin in the first round of presidential elections Sunday did so reluctantly, as the lesser of two evils. They blame him for crime, corruption and the Chechnya war, but are frightened by the prospect of a Communist victory.
Yet a growing number of Russians _ especially in cities _ are willing to credit Yeltsin for the democratic and free-market reforms that opened opportunities for a better life.
Some voted for other candidates Sunday. But their votes could be key for Yeltsin now that he is in a two-man runoff against Communist challenger Gennady Zyuganov that will take place in the next few weeks.
Aware that many Russians are disillusioned with his reforms, Yeltsin has shied away from discussing them on the campaign trail. Instead he has sympathized with people struggling to adjust to a market economy and offered promises: to pay back wages, compensate for savings lost to inflation, raise pensions, boost support for industry and agriculture.
But increasingly in recent months, Yeltsin can also count on people who are thankful for the chance to set their own course, even if they never get rich.
``If you work, you can live OK. I feel free,″ said Denis Kalashnikov, 21, who works in a shop with two other men making custom car seats. ``If the Communists win, for the young it will be something like war.″
In Tula, a town a few hours’ drive south of Moscow, a saleswoman in a food store that advertises ``40 kinds of cheese″ said she lived well enough under the Communists but prefers life under Yeltsin’s reforms.
``It’s not like earlier, when you could just sit there and get paid, be given things,″ said Galina Kushneryova, 35. ``That wasn’t right, but out of habit, people are used to it. For businesspeople, things are much better now.″
Lev Fomin, a former electrician, sells household tools on the street in Tula to supplement his pension.
``I’m still working because I need more, and now you can do that,″ said Fomin, 59, who says Yeltsin is the only choice. ``Those who want to work can. It’s difficult for people, but it’s possible.″
Yeltsin gets strong support from younger, educated Russians from the cities, like Moscow medical student Vyacheslav Bourmistrov.
``At least there’s some kind of hope for the future,″ said Bourmistrov, 24, who has a job in a jeans store in a Western-style mall. ``There’s the possibility to make something of yourself.″
Yeltsin’s push to portray himself as the only alternative to a return to the horrors of Communism appears to have had some success.
Many young Moscow voters said they liked the policies of free-market economist Grigory Yavlinsky best, but they wrote him off as having no chance of getting elected. Yeltsin got their vote, and Yavlinsky came in a distant fourth.
Yeltsin’s campaign has targeted young people, who are more likely to support the president but less likely than their parents and grandparents to vote. At an outdoor rock concert in Yekaterinburg before Sunday’s vote, a band belted out the slogan ``Vote or you lose.″
Turnout Sunday was 70 percent, and Yeltsin’s staff has warned that percentage cannot drop in the runoff if the president is to beat Zyuganov. In the first round, Yeltsin got about 35 percent of the vote and Zyuganov 32 percent.
More than 50 percent was needed to avoid a runoff. The date for the second round has not been set.
Not all Yeltsin’s supporters come from businesses or universities.
Tamara Maidantseva of Yekaterinburg, Yeltsin’s hometown in the Ural Mountains, said he clinched her vote when he signed a decree this spring guaranteeing the right to buy and sell land.
``Yeltsin has given us back our land,″ said Maidantseva, 63. ``We will raise agriculture up from the ruins.″