HOW THE UPCOMING PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS ARE INTERPRETED BY THE CENTRAL MEDIA

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HOW THE UPCOMING PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS ARE INTERPRETED BY THE CENTRAL MEDIA

The presidential elections, although still far off, are nevertheless provoking considerably greater interest among Moscow policy scientists and analysts than the 1999 parliamentary elections. Last week, two influential Moscow publications – Obshchaya Gazeta and Vek published their predictions of the development of events. According to Obshchaya Gazeta, in 2000 we are to witness optional elections, which is what happened in 1996. The party of power intends to insure itself against any possible unexpected events and therefore, as the newspaper asserts, is staking its bets on Primakov as a person without superfluous political ambitions and the embodiment of “the succession of late-Soviet and post-Soviet times.” From this viewpoint, another candidate for president – Yury Luzhkov – is considerably weaker: “Luzhkov has the traits of unpredictability and uncontrollability, which were necessary for the leadership of the elite in 1991 but of no need to the elite of 2000.” Thus, it will have to be explained to the electorate over the course of the electoral campaign that they should vote in favor of “supervision” once more or things will get worse. In this respect, Albert Makashov with his anti-Semitic announcements and the Communists, who did not have the courage to repudiate him in public, rendered a priceless service to the party of power. Thus the requisite enemy has been found and victory had been provided for Primakov as far as is possible at the moment. Regarding this very point the newspaper ponders the instinct of power inherent in the party of power which allows it to infallibly find the most safe way out of doubtful situations.

Vek weekly perceives the results of the elections more pessimistically, calling the attention of readers to the growth of the protest vote (the Russian election system allows voters to vote against all candidates – translator’s note) in all elections in the last several years. The position “against all candidates”, which seems to be held by up to 40% of the electorate – the so-called “morass” (the non-determined electorate for whom all electoral campaigns are held) – shows, according to the newspaper, the catastrophic decrease of the prestige of power. As “Vek” warns, a real “electoral mutiny” could take place in Russia. And however strange it may seem, the acting power may be the one that wants it, “since if there is a mass protest vote there will be no proper legal basis for the elections of the head of state, and president will only be supported by 30% of the electorate, compared to the 40% or even 50% that voted against him. In such a situation, no option is left for Boris Yeltsin and his adherents but to retain the Kremlin for themselves for an indefinite period.” As “Vek” asserts, “The current actions of the Kremlin and the government look very much like preparations for this very resolution to the Russian political-psychological crisis.”

In a series of articles entitled “Old Songs about the Essentials”, the Chief Editor of Nezavisimaya Gazeta Vitaly Tretyakov minutely scrutinizes the chances of all participants in the race for the presidency. From his viewpoint, there are four major groupings struggling for power: the Communists headed by Gennady Zyuganov, “Otechestvo” by Yury Luzhkov, the grouping of Yevgeny Primakov, and the “Kremlin-family grouping of Tatiana Dyachenko and Boris Berezovsky.” As Tretyakov mentions, the main drawback of the Communists, who so far rank first in popular ratings, is their complete lack of constructive plans. They are primarily tormented by the wish “to avenge those who struggled against them” and consequently their victory holds the possibility of a new – “though mainly cold” – civil war. As for Yevgeny Primakov, his most vulnerable spot is his lack of a political party and the consequent necessity of relying on the government. “And when the government is the main ‘party’ of the state, this is the phenomenon called authoritarianism.”

However, according to Tretyakov Yury Luzhkov is even more authoritarian. “In this respect he could compete even with Yeltsin.” The chief editor of Nezavisimaya Gazeta sees in Luzhkov “an almost ideal leader for a mobilization economy and policy.” If this way of overcoming the crisis is the only one for Russia, no better candidate for president can be found. However, as Tretyakov stresses, in this case any manifestations of liberalism will have to be forgotten for a long time to come.

And finally Boris Berezovsky. For the candidate nominated from this grouping to win the presidential election, a small detail is lacking – the candidate himself. As Tretyakov admits, “the Kremlin-family grouping” is now engaged in searching for a protege. The problem is that Berezovsky would be the best candidate from Berezovsky’s grouping, and it will hardly be possible to find a substitute for Berezovsky. Therefore, the possibility of a forced decision and, to be more exact, a certain “figurehead” should not be excluded. “However, the figurehead will be able to solve problems only within the framework of the corporation, not in this tremendous country, especially now that it is at the crossroads.” However, citing Berezovsky’s favorite utterance “life is expansion”, the author assures that a way out will be found, “however hard this task seemed to others.”

Yevgeny Primakov himself, as before, prefers actions to public announcements and notorious steps. After implementation of the law “On Banks and Banking Activities”, which has already been approved by the Duma Budget-Financial Committee, the Ministry for Tax Collection, headed by Georgy Boos, “Primakov’s minion” (as he was called in the February 9 edition of Kommersant-daily, which published the same news) will accumulate by itself all information about the accounts of individuals and legal entities. According to the new draft of the law, every organization will have three months to re-register all its accounts. The banks assumes the obligation of informing the Ministry for Tax Collection about every change in the deposits of legal entities and businesspeople. Thus, as the publication emphasizes, “The Ministry for Tax Collection will know all banking secrets. And this is not only fiscal, but also political control, which makes Boos an important player in the forthcoming electoral struggle.”

The outcome of the impending parliamentary elections seems to trouble the current deputies very much. So much that, during Primakov’s meting with leaders of the Duma factions, as stated by the February 12 edition of Kommersant-daily, a proposal was even made to postpone the elections until 2000. The deputies agreed even to unite the parliamentary elections with the presidential ones. “The motives proposed were the traditional ones: it would first of all save money in the current difficult economic situation and reduce the period of political instability and, secondly, it would allow amendments to be introduced into the Constitution by summer 2000 which would re-distribute power commissions in favor of the government and the Parliament.” Yevgeny Primakov, loyal to his rule of not making any rash political announcements, listened to the deputies very attentively and stated that their proposals ‘required consideration.'” The newspaper also adds: “It is hard to say how exactly the deputies intend to carry out their initiative (to introduce amendments into the Constitution), but it surely has huge political consequences.”

However, not waiting for favor from the executive branch, the deputies decided to take care of themselves while possible. According to the new draft of the law “On Deputies’ Status”, as stated by the February 11 edition of the newspaper Novye Izvestia, in terms of social guarantees deputies rank as highly as federal ministers. A long list of benefits for deputies crowns the provision about payment of a monetary compensation equal to three months’ salary (equated with the Minister’s salary) if he or she is not elected to the new Duma.

The current deputies of the NDR faction, which just yesterday seemed to be fading fast, may utilize this very provision. As the February 11 edition of Nezavisimaya Gazeta states, the Duma has practically started preparing for the forthcoming elections, having approved the five members of the new staff of the Central Electoral Committee (representatives of the Federation Council are to occupy five more places and the last five vacancies belong to executive power branch and will be occupied by people appointed by the President). According to the information of the Duma, six people ran for the five places from the Duma. Therefore a soft rate vote was held and as a result the representative of NDR received the fewest votes. As a matter of fact, his place was taken by Director of the state-legal department of the Moscow City administration Gennady Ponomarev, who was nominated by the People’s Power group. The publication thinks that Ponomarev “can be considered a representative of the left opposition only in form, because actually it is clear that he would serve the interests of Yury Luzhkov.” Moreover, as NG thinks, the elections to the Central Electoral Committee showed distinctly that NDR candidates may well have no chance to get into the next Duma: “Ponomarev’s colleagues obviously disregard NDR and treat it rather scornfully.”

But day by day, the influence of Yury Luzhkov’s Otechestvo movement has been increasing. As Nezavisimaya Gazeta states, representatives of Otechestvo from 61 regions were present at the Moscow City conference of the movement, and Yury Luzhkov announced to the participants that there are regional branches of the movement in 88 federation subjects (except Chechnya). Luzhkov thinks his organization should be “the last hope for improving living conditions in Russia”. The fact that Otechestvo “has commenced delivering fear” witnesses the growth of the political popularity of Luzhkov’s movement.

The February 10 edition of the newspaper Kommersant-daily states that In Nizhny Novgorod Governor Ivan Sklyarov had in fact headed the local branch of Otechestvo. Undoubtedly, this fact guarantees the organizational support to the movement in the region. Financial support is also settled, judging by the number of directors of various banks and industrial enterprises who participated in the constituent assembly: “Many people in Nizhny Novgorod are sure that the region will support Luzhkov.”

Moskovskie Novosti weekly notes that little money is left in the country on the eve of the elections, and therefore that the struggle for it will be very fierce. The oligarchs, who used to invest money in politicians and their movements, are experiencing hard times: neither Vinogradov (Inkombank), nor Potanin (UNEXIMbank), or Khodorkovsky (MENATEP) can be counted on. Even V. Gusinsky “will help more with airtime than with money.” Nevertheless, as the weekly mentions, “serious politicians make serious plans.” The struggle for the biggest sources of money remaining after the crisis continues. This is how “Moskovskie Novosti” explains the replacement of the Director of Vneshekonombank in the heyday of negotiations with international creditors: “It seems that for certain supervisors considerations of control over the debts of Vneshekonombank are more important than the stand of the country in the course of negotiations.” Further on, those in whose interests this had been done are named: “the former employees of Vneshekonombank in the USSR Poletaev, Alibegov, and Rychenkov are considered among possible candidacies for investing money in politics.” According to MN, “All of them represent the interests of all Soviet staff, which strengthens their positions in the new government and make them possible successors of Yury Maslyukov or Gennady Kulik. In the political sense, this future will be known on the day of the elections. In other words, “The elections are impending and their influence on economics is increasing.”

COMMENTS ABOUT THE PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS IN THE CENTRAL MEDIA

The outcome of the impending parliamentary elections seems to trouble the current deputies very much. So much that, during Primakov’s meting with leaders of the Duma factions, as stated by the February 12 edition of Kommersant-daily, a proposal was even made to postpone the elections until 2000. The deputies agreed even to unite the parliamentary elections with the presidential ones. “The motives proposed were the traditional ones: it would first of all save money in the current difficult economic situation and reduce the period of political instability and, secondly, it would allow amendments to be introduced into the Constitution by summer 2000 which would re-distribute power commissions in favor of the government and the Parliament.” Yevgeny Primakov, loyal to his rule of not making any rash political announcements, listened to the deputies very attentively and stated that their proposals ‘required consideration.'” The newspaper also adds: “It is hard to say how exactly the deputies intend to carry out their initiative (to introduce amendments into the Constitution), but it surely has huge political consequences.”

However, not waiting for favor from the executive branch, the deputies decided to take care of themselves while possible. According to the new draft of the law “On Deputies’ Status”, as stated by the February 11 edition of the newspaper Novye Izvestia, in terms of social guarantees deputies rank as highly as federal ministers. A long list of benefits for deputies crowns the provision about payment of a monetary compensation equal to three months’ salary (equated with the Minister’s salary) if he or she is not elected to the new Duma.

The current deputies of the NDR faction, which just yesterday seemed to be fading fast, may utilize this very provision. As the February 11 edition of Nezavisimaya Gazeta states, the Duma has practically started preparing for the forthcoming elections, having approved the five members of the new staff of the Central Electoral Committee (representatives of the Federation Council are to occupy five more places and the last five vacancies belong to executive power branch and will be occupied by people appointed by the President). According to the information of the Duma, six people ran for the five places from the Duma. Therefore a soft rate vote was held and as a result the representative of NDR received the fewest votes. As a matter of fact, his place was taken by Director of the state-legal department of the Moscow City administration Gennady Ponomarev, who was nominated by the People’s Power group. The publication thinks that Ponomarev “can be considered a representative of the left opposition only in form, because actually it is clear that he would serve the interests of Yury Luzhkov.” Moreover, as NG thinks, the elections to the Central Electoral Committee showed distinctly that NDR candidates may well have no chance to get into the next Duma: “Ponomarev’s colleagues obviously disregard NDR and treat it rather scornfully.”

But day by day, the influence of Yury Luzhkov’s Otechestvo movement has been increasing. As Nezavisimaya Gazeta states, representatives of Otechestvo from 61 regions were present at the Moscow City conference of the movement, and Yury Luzhkov announced to the participants that there are regional branches of the movement in 88 federation subjects (except Chechnya). Luzhkov thinks his organization should be “the last hope for improving living conditions in Russia”. The fact that Otechestvo “has commenced delivering fear” witnesses the growth of the political popularity of Luzhkov’s movement.

The February 10 edition of the newspaper Kommersant-daily states that In Nizhny Novgorod Governor Ivan Sklyarov had in fact headed the local branch of Otechestvo. Undoubtedly, this fact guarantees the organizational support to the movement in the region. Financial support is also settled, judging by the number of directors of various banks and industrial enterprises who participated in the constituent assembly: “Many people in Nizhny Novgorod are sure that the region will support Luzhkov.”

Moskovskie Novosti weekly notes that little money is left in the country on the eve of the elections, and therefore that the struggle for it will be very fierce. The oligarchs, who used to invest money in politicians and their movements, are experiencing hard times: neither Vinogradov (Inkombank), nor Potanin (UNEXIMbank), or Khodorkovsky (MENATEP) can be counted on. Even V. Gusinsky “will help more with airtime than with money.” Nevertheless, as the weekly mentions, “serious politicians make serious plans.” The struggle for the biggest sources of money remaining after the crisis continues. This is how “Moskovskie Novosti” explains the replacement of the Director of Vneshekonombank in the heyday of negotiations with international creditors: “It seems that for certain supervisors considerations of control over the debts of Vneshekonombank are more important than the stand of the country in the course of negotiations.” Further on, those in whose interests this had been done are named: “the former employees of Vneshekonombank in the USSR Poletaev, Alibegov, and Rychenkov are considered among possible candidacies for investing money in politics.” According to MN, “All of them represent the interests of all Soviet staff, which strengthens their positions in the new government and make them possible successors of Yury Maslyukov or Gennady Kulik. In the political sense, this future will be known on the day of the elections. In other words, “The elections are impending and their influence on economics is increasing.”

 

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