Candidate Zhirinovsky Sets Sights on Yeltsin
Jan. 10, 1996
MOSCOW (AP) _ Vladimir Zhirinovsky went after the president's job Wednesday in characteristically theatrical form _ sinking to his knees to honor Russian soldiers and demanding that Chechen rebels be napalmed.
The ultranationalist kicked off his presidential bid at a congress of his Liberal Democratic Party, which nominated him unanimously as expected.
A lone Siberian chapter had voiced dissent, accusing Zhirinovsky of reigning by terror and generally ``talking nonsense.''
Although Zhirinovsky's popularity has slipped since his party finished first in 1993 parliamentary elections, he did better than expected in last month's elections. The Liberal Democratic Party _ although neither liberal nor democratic _ finished second to the resurgent Communists.
On Wednesday, Zhirinovsky dismissed the Communists and any other contenders for president, saying his only serious rival in the June race is incumbent Boris Yeltsin.
``Other candidates are better off not worrying and wasting their money,'' Zhirinovsky said.
Yeltsin, unpopular in polls, is expected to seek a second five-year term. Other likely candidates include Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, conservative retired Gen. Alexander Lebed and liberal economist Grigory Yavlinsky, all of whom fare better in opinion polls than Zhirinovsky.
But the outrageous Zhirinovsky's appeal is frequently underestimated. As a presidential candidate in 1991, he rose from obscurity to finish third.
Many angry Russians who have lost their bearings since the collapse of the Soviet Union cheer when Zhirinovsky punches, spits or throws things at opponents.
``I just like him,'' was a common response of his supporters in exit polling last month.
True to form Wednesday in a speech to party delegates, Zhirinovsky appealed to wounded national pride.
``The Russian people have become the most humiliated nation on the planet,'' he said, and fell on his knees to apologize.
Staying there, he added, ``We bend our knees to honor the memory of Russian soldiers who saved the world and civilization.''
Zhirinovsky attacks both Communists and Yeltsin's reformers. He has called for executing criminals without trial, establishing a dictatorship, and retaking lost parts of the Russian Empire such as Alaska, Finland and Poland.
While Chechen rebels held 160 civilians in the second day of a hostage drama on Wednesday, Zhirinovsky called on Yeltsin to crack down on the breakaway republic.
``If you don't stop the war in Chechnya in one month, burning all rebel bases with napalm, you will lose the elections and I will win them,'' he said.
Zhirinovsky also led party delegates in singing patriotic songs, including the former Soviet anthem.
The unanimous nomination came despite an appeal sent by party dissidents in Krasnoyarsk, a Siberian city, that someone else be chosen, the Interfax news agency said.
The appeal accused Zhirinovsky and his family _ many of whom ran for parliament _ of pocketing party money for themselves. It complained of a Zhirinovsky personality cult that has crushed dissent, Interfax reported.
The party has suffered defections in the past year.
The Krasnoyarsk group wrote that ``instead of reasonable dialogue he stages fits of hysteria and talks nonsense.''