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Yeltsin’s Changes Have Helped but Voter Apathy Looms

June 21, 1996

MOSCOW (AP) _ Boris Yeltsin’s sweeping changes in his inner circle have given him strong momentum heading into the July 3 presidential runoff, but voter apathy still could cost him the election, analysts said Friday.

The president’s campaign team, concerned that low turnout could hurt their candidate, went to Parliament on Friday seeking to add four hours to the voting day _ from 6 a.m. to midnight. The opposition rebuffed the bid.

But Yeltsin’s frenetic campaign has propelled him from underdog to favorite in the race against his chief rival, Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov. In Sunday’s first round of voting, Yeltsin outpolled Zyuganov by 26.7 million votes to 24.2 million.

No poll results have been released on a runoff. Virtually all earlier surveys showed a greater margin for Yeltsin over Zyuganov in a runoff than in the first round, when the vote was split by eight other candidates.

Leading political scientists said Friday that bringing Alexander Lebed, who finished third Sunday, aboard his team and ousting four unpopular top officials this week has strengthened Yeltsin’s re-election chances.

``Firing those people, who have long discredited him in the eyes of the public, gave Yeltsin his second wind,″ said Alexander Bevz of the Moscow-based Civil Society Foundation.

Lebed, the tough-talking general who picked up nearly 11 million votes, was made national security chief this week.

Those who were ousted were influential members of Yeltsin’s inner circle: Alexander Korzhakov, the powerful head of the presidential security service; Mikhail Barsukov, chief of the Federal Security Service; Oleg Soskovets, a first deputy prime minister in charge of the military-industrial complex; and Defense Minister Pavel Grachev.

All were hawkish hard-liners, accused of being power-hungry and hostile to genuine reforms in the former Soviet Union.

The analysts said Yeltsin is likely to gain most of Lebed’s electorate and most of fourth-place finisher Grigory Yavlinsky’s supporters, and split votes cast for ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who was fifth, with Zyuganov.

In a bid to boost turnout, Yeltsin’s government already has succeeded in moving the balloting to a weekday rather than a weekend.

The political scientists, speaking at a Moscow news conference, said the main danger for Yeltsin in the runoff is apathy or overconfidence among his backers, in comparison with the Communists’ rain-or-shine voters.

The first-round turnout was 70 percent. ``In the runoff, it’s likely to fall to 63-64 percent, and if it drops further Yeltsin may lose,″ said Igor Bunin of the Center of Political Technologies.

Another looming problem: overdue wages, which Yeltsin promised long ago to pay back. The State Statistics Committee said Friday that back wages owed to state workers jumped 35 percent in early June to top $1.12 billion.

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