THE UPCOMING FEDERAL ELECTIONS AS REPORTED BY THE CENTRAL MEDIA
Although analysts have long been predicting the possibility of the dismissal of the Russian government on the eve of the Duma’s discussion of the accusations against President Yeltsin, this event still shocked everybody – both journalists and those close to the main actors.
Vremya MN remarks that there was an impression for some time “that on May 12 a landing party landed in Moscow, fired the government, and flew away, and that the Presidential Administration staffers who survived this will now have to sweep up the mess.”
Nevertheless, “sources in the governing body” assured journalists that the dismissal was natural, being only the first step on the way to fulfilling a compound plan of the Presidential Administration. Novye Izvestia, in particular, connected Primakov’s dismissal with a certain electoral strategy of the president’s and stated that, despite the soundness of the accusations against the government concerning its poor economic performance, these accusations were not the actual reason for the government’s dismissal: “In the given case, it was nothing more than electoral prospects that were the deciding motivation.”
Otto Latsis, the paper’s observer, sees indirect proof of this in the fact that the president not only received Primakov in his office before dismissing him, but also thanked him for his work: “Neither Chernomyrdin nor Kirienko, who demonstrated much greater loyalty to the president, were honored with such formal signs of attention before their dismissal.” Latsis asserts that the explanation for the president’s untraditional courtesy toward the premier to be fired lies in Primakov’s possible political prospects: “He is leaving his post surrounded by the people’s sympathy, as an allegedly wrongly hurt civil servant. Whether he will leave politics entirely or only his former post is fully up to him.” Of course, Primakov has declared more than once that he has no ambitions to run for president, but, as Latsis remarks, “Who knows what his wounded self-esteem will prompt him to do this time.”
Moskovsky Komsomolets expressed confidence that the government’s dismissal was the result of new intrigues of Berezovsky, this power behind the throne of Russian politics: “In terms of tactics, Primakov’s dismissal means that Boris Berezovsky has once again prevailed over common sense.” Now, the paper is convinced, dissolution of the Duma is fairly possible (“If needed, pretexts may be found in abundance for this purpose”), and Yury Luzhkov must become the next victim of Berezovsky and Yeltsin’s “family”, who patronizes him. The article ends in an ominous prophecy: “Today Berezovsky is rejoicing… But Yeltsin is not immortal. And then the time will come for the Russian people to rejoice…”
Last week, many media discussed the possibility of the dissolution of the Duma and pre-term elections. Vremya MN, for instance, believes that the Kremlin has not yet made the final decision about what the best way to treat the rebellious parliament will be. But if the Presidential Administration actually has certain plans in this respect they are rather radical – “named after Anatoly Chubais” – as the paper states. In particular: it is necessary not simply to dissolve the Duma but to make sure that the Communists do not get into the Duma of the new convocation. This can be secured if the CPRF is banned when the Duma is dissolved. “Only in that case will there be a chance for the Duma of the new convocation not to be leftist.” However, the paper remarks, “Apparently, even Chubais understands that this idea is as risky as it is beautiful.”
There are also other predictions about the further development of the situation. “Vremya MN” says that, after the attempt to initiate the impeachment proceedings ended in nothing, the question of the new premier has become of vital importance to Russian legislators, and not only to the leftist ones, at that. (In general, the paper thinks that the Communists should not overreact to the results of the May 15 voting, taking into account that “it was possible to gain the maximum dividends from impeachment only in the first stage of the proceedings” which, as it was dragging out, was starting to threaten its own initiators more and more with serious troubles “in form of negative verdicts of the Supreme Court, the negative reaction of the upper chamber, etc.”) Many deputies, for instance members of the Russian Regions faction, are very interested in the Duma being left alone until the scheduled parliamentary election. Some of these deputies are connected with Luzhkov’s Fatherland and others with Shaimiev’s All Russia movement. It is no wonder, then, that, according to the paper’s information, the leaders of the two movements who, for the record, opposed the idea of impeaching the president, “secretly ordered ‘their’ deputies to vote for impeachment.”
Segodnya is of the opinion that, after the “soap opera called ‘impeachment'” was so talentlessly ruined, the vote on the candidate for premier will give the left a chance to strike back. However, if the Duma is indeed dissolved the risk of losing their “electoral headquarters” in the Duma may turn out to be too great for the deputies.
On the other hand, there will be many conflicts between the government and the Duma as it is, without the traditionally tricky problem of the cabinet’s composition. As is known, acting Premier Sergei Stepashin has announced his intention to continue the course of reforms of the Russian economy. Meanwhile, as “Vremya MN” notes, “the incompatibility of the electoral struggle with the liberal economic reforms is clear to all.” Therefore, the new government, like all preceding ones, will have to “play democracy” rather than work seriously. In this connection, the question of how serious the president’s grudges against the dismissed government were as regards its insufficiently resolute actions in the economy leaps to mind. “If these grudges are serious, we will most likely have no Duma after all. Perhaps we will not have it for a long time.” The suggestion of the leaders of the Our Home is Russia (NDR) movement of a pre-term dissolution of the Duma was widely reacted to in the media. Although in the statement of the NDR political council this suggestion was motivated by the fact that the lower chamber of parliament, as one of the branches of power, needs to be reformed, etc., “Segodnya” is of the opinion that this initiative first of all serves as evidence of the pragmatism of its author, Viktor Chernomyrdin. The NDR leader has made a very profitable move for himself by “noticeably narrowing the circle claimants for seats in the Duma of the new convocation.” The paper states that, in accordance with the law, in case of a pre-term election “the three new ‘parties of power’, namely Luzhkov’s Fatherland, Shaimiev’s All Russia, and Konstantin Titov’s Voice of Russia” will lose the right to participate in the election campaign, as will the two pillars of the Right Cause bloc – Sergei Kirienko’s New Force and Boris Nemtsov’s Young Russia.” Thus, most of the dangerous rivals of NDR will be momentarily sent packing. The paper arrives at the following conclusion: “Chernomyrdin has not yet completely lost his political insight, and he cannot complain about poor appetite, either.” However, it is unlikely that Chernomyrdin will actually manage to have such a radical suggestion fulfilled.
In the opinion of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the impeachment vote was a sort of pre-election litmus test for the Duma factions. According to the paper’s logic, regardless of the results of the vote the very discussion of the possibility of impeachment was profitable for practically everybody, since it allowed the factions’ leaders to once again publicly declare their political positions in hope of gaining support on the part of the electorate. As a result, the left had a unique opportunity to neutralize their political rivals: “It would be naive to think that the deputies or factions who vote against impeachment will enjoy additional affection among voters.” Yabloko, which focused on the sure topic of the Chechen war, also reaped political dividends. Apart from that, in the process of discussing all the problems connected with impeachment Yavlinsky confirmed “his status as a politician of the higher echelon who has a real right to run for the presidency.”
Indeed, the number of recent publications dedicated to Yabloko’s leader may be called record-breaking without fear of exaggeration. Novaya Gazeta published Yavlinsky’s speech in the Duma, subtitled by his concluding statement: “The unavoidable responsibility and punishability of the powers that be for crimes against the people are part and parcel of true democracy.”
Earlier, Novye Izvestia published excerpts from Yavlinsky’s report which he delivered at a meeting of Yabloko’s central board, in which he maintained that “the idea of impeachment does not concern so much the acting powers that be as it does those who will replace them.” Yavlinsky is of the opinion that the idea of impeachment should suggest the idea of “the inevitability of the future government’s responsibility for the lives of our people.”
Yegor Yakovlev, Editor-in-Chief of Obschaya Gazeta, interviewed Yavlinsky about the prospects of the unification of Russia and Belarus. Yabloko is prepared to consider this idea exclusively from the standpoint of economic expediency. As for the political plane, such unification, in Yavlinsky’s opinion, may first of all mean an increase in instability both in Belarus, where, as is known, the Belorussian People’s Front (BPF) actively opposes unification, and in Russia. Yavlinsky believes that BPF leaders are right in many respects: “Manipulating Belarus’ state sovereignty is an indecent and dangerous thing to do, although apparently it greatly appeals to the Russian political elite.” Yavlinsky believes that the reasons why the two heads of state support the idea of merging have nothing to do with the interests of the Russian and Belorussian peoples: “It is quite possible that Yeltsin needs this unification to retain his presidency after 2000. If such a union is officially established, perhaps it could be arranged that its president will not be subject to re-election.” Yavlinsky has no doubt that such a development would suit Lukashenko too: “He believes that he will manage to outwit Yeltsin and enter the Russian political arena, enter our political life, become an acting political figure in Russia.” Yavlinsky is convinced that everything beyond economic cooperation should in fact be considered Lukashenko’s attempt to gain power in Russia.
Yabloko’s leader repeated the same idea in another interview given to Sobesednik weekly. Answering journalist Dmitry Bykov’s question of whether Lukashenko could become president of Russia Yavlinsky said, “De jure he cannot do so yet, but he is working on it. I want you to understand that all of this is very serious. Lukashenko undoubtedly feels that Belarus is too small of a country for him. He is a very strong leader and he is able to show a ‘Slavic miracle’ to many people here in Russia.”
Yavlinsky proposed an elaborate program for Yabloko’s actions in NG-Scenarios (a supplement to “Nezavisimaya Gazeta”). In this article he declared his intention to double Yabloko’s presence in the Duma: “We no longer want to depend on whether we are invited into the government or not, on whether our proposals are taken into consideration or not. There must be more of us in the Duma. Then we will be able to exert greater influence on what is going on in this country.” The traditional question of possible allies or partners in the upcoming election was answered by Yavlinsky in the following manner: Yabloko is ready to cooperate with everyone “who is not a Communist or a fascist.” Nevertheless, he referred to the leaders of the Right Cause movement – those, who, it would seem, are the only allies of Yabloko – as bankrupt politicians who “had their chance but failed to make use of it,” and instead focused on “personal promotion and enrichment.” Furthermore, Yavlinsky believes that Gaidar, Chubais, and other radical reformers did not set themselves any other task from the very beginning: “They were creating a corporate, oligarchic, monopoly system in which their friends and acquaintances, who have with their help acquired credits and property, currently feel just fine.” Therefore, Yavlinsky takes the statements of the right that Yabloko is rather social-democratic in orientations and that they, the leaders of Right Cause, are real liberals, to be ungrounded: “If Yabloko members are social democrats then, of course, they are liberals, but if we are liberals then they are simply thieves.”
Concluding this extensive interview, Yavlinsky maintained that the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections “are not the elections for four years to come, and not even those for ten years to come. These will be the elections forever.” Yeltsin’s epoch is drawing to a close, and the country will have to make a serious choice. “I hope that there will never be more slogans of the ‘vote with your heart’ type. My personal call is this: do not vote with anything but your head.”
Many agree that Yeltsin’s epoch is really coming to an end. Novoe Vremya weekly states that the main novelty of the current situation is that “for the major and ever-growing part of the elite, cooperation with the Kremlin, as well as struggle against it, are ceasing to be problem No. 1.” The paper believes that the regional leaders are currently absorbed in thought concerning their possible actions in the epoch after Yeltsin and are searching for “their niche in the new, Yeltsin-free state layout.”
Vladimir Lysenko, an eminent politician and a Duma deputy, analyzes in Vechernaya Moskva the views, political partialities, and alliances of the currently existing regional elite and arrives at the like conclusion: in order to secure themselves success in the upcoming election they should “deviate from Yeltsin rather than hope for his support.” Therefore, Lysenko asserts, “after all, the regions are more likely to unite under the future possible president than under the currently existing party of power.” He names Luzhkov as the most probable candidate in the presidential election capable of gathering the cautious regional leaders around himself.
It is of interest that if Yavlinsky’s interviews, speeches, and direct speech in general prevail among the publications connected with him, the deeds and plans of Otechestvo’s leaders are conveyed to the public mainly by either his compatriots or journalists.
For instance, Argumenty i Fakty weekly published a detailed interview with Alexander Vladislavlev, a businessman and politician, Luyzhkov’s old friend and companion, and the ideologist of Otechestvo. Vladislavlev’s definition of Otechestvo’s “supertask” as achievement of “Russian-style democracy”, i.e. in combination with a strong state, “Suffice it to recall the Russian history: this country has always felt itself well under a strong power, while a weak power sooner or later gave rise to discords and social upheavals.” In Vladislavlev’s opinion, Russia is currently once again standing “before the dangerous prospect of anarchy” and first of all needs national concord in order to get out of this state, “That is why we have proclaimed Otechestvo a party of national concord.”
Apart from that, Vladislavlev warns that in order to avoid a catastrophe during the upcoming change of power it is necessary that the leading political forces – Yabloko, the CPRF, and Otechestvo – agree on “sensible rules of the game, on the principles of concordance, which would allow this country to avoid a catastrophe.” Vladislavlev is optimistic about the possibility of partnership with All Russia bloc: since “both the movements are close to each other as to their ideology and possessing real political resources,” their would-be alliance may be considered fairly justified. The two movements expect to gather up to 25% of votes in the parliamentary election and form a powerful faction in the Duma of the new convocation, “Our main common task is to form an efficient and competent lower chamber, which would engage in real law-making, instead of unjustified political intrigues and silly struggle against the executive brunch.”
However, proclamation of a pre-term parliamentary election may seriously hamper Otechestvo’s plans. In that case, according to Vremya MN, Luzhkov will have to choose between two possible options: either the movements currently being part of Otechestvo nationwide political organization – namely the Congress of Russian Communities, Derzhava, Soyuz Truda, Russia’s Women, etc. – unite into an electoral bloc under the same name (all these organizations have long been registered and have the right to participate in the election), or Otechestvo does not participate in the election altogether. The second option, strange as it may seem, has its advantages, at least personally for Lyzhkov. “The experience of the last presidential campaign demonstrates that absence of a Duma faction of his own brings a candidate more profit than its presence.” If the small parties fail to gather the needed number of votes Luzhkov may be re-elected Moscow mayor in December and in that case will have enough time to prepare for the presidential election. In addition, this option will help save money, which will certainly please Vladimir Yevtushenkov, chief of Sistema media holding and, as the paper names him, Luzhkov’s “cashier.”
At the same time, after loud statements at the latest congress of Otechestvo in Yaroslavl about the necessity of “changing power in this country” Luzhkov’s followers are proceeding from his future participation in the parliamentary campaign. Luzhkov will soon face a rather complicated choice from the viewpoint of his further political prospects.
Sociological services are continuing with their public opinion polls. Kommersant-vlast weekly publishes the results of two such polls conducted by the National Center for the Study of Public Opinion and Romir research center. These results may be considered sensational: for instance, as it has turned out, the post of president is absolutely unattractive to the absolute majority of Russian population: 90% of the respondents in no way desire to become president. The paper remarks, “Such a situation is not observed in any developed country.” Answering the question “What do you personally lack to become president?” respondents most frequently named the lack of education and special preparation. The paper notes that this is even more surprising for the country where few rulers could boast the quality of their education. Apart from that, in Russia, where the powers that be are constantly speaking about their care for the people’s interests, the people themselves, in turn, believe that “in order to become president one should be devoid of shame and conscience.” (8% of the respondents.)
As for the desirable qualities of a conditional president, the set of factors is also very strange. Only 3% of those polled think that a president should “be a knowing politician and enjoy authority.” Apparently, “Kommersant-vlast” remarks, in Russia the term “politician” is not yet perceived as a profession. The leading qualities one needs to be a president as stated by the respondents are intellect, courage, resoluteness, and also honesty and fairness. “To sum it up, we may assert that, judging from the main qualities demanded of a president the people pictures him as a distinctly pronounced romantic hero.” However, it must also be noted that many respondents named austerity and exactingness, “the qualities traditionally favored by Russians” and betraying the electorate’s longing for a “firm hand”, as the compulsory qualities of a president.