THE UPCOMING FEDERAL ELECTIONS AS REPORTED BY THE CENTRAL MEDIA
After the government’s dismissal and, despite all expectations, the complete failure of the impeachment proceedings, one of the main topics being discussed in the media has become forecasts: who will now become the official successor of Yeltsin, if not Primakov, who has earned the trust of the president’s “family”? In an article dedicated to the fashion in which the problem-free confirmation of Stepashin’s candidacy as premier by the Duma was secured, Nezavisimaya Gazeta expresses the opinion that it is the new head of the government who currently has every opportunity to form a new “party of power”, and with a possibility of participating in the presidential election, at that. The paper reports that “a source from circles close to Boris Yeltsin openly called Sergei Stepashin ‘the successor to the throne’, of course provided that he proves a ‘sound’ premier.” Thus, we may assume that, now that the new premier has been confirmed, the number of candidates for president has grown by one more character.
As for the former premier, Moskovsky Komsomolets is of the opinion that, by dismissing Primakov, Yeltsin has in fact canceled his political career: “Primakov, who still has the highest popularity ratings, is unlikely to become a candidate in an open presidential race. He is a man of a different school and temperament.” “Itogi” magazine shares this viewpoint and takes Primakov to be “the last soldier of the empire,” a man of the Soviet epoch who is unequal to the new situation: “The fact that he has proved incapable of governing post-Soviet Russia serves as evidence of only one thing: this country has actually changed. The point of return to the bright Soviet yesterday has passed for good.”
Nevertheless, there is no 100% guarantee that Primakov has left professional politics. Many publications suspect Primakov of dormant ambitions. Figury i Litsa (a supplement to “Nezavisimaya Gazeta”) is of the opinion that Primakov the state leader, Primakov the adherent of the theory of the convergence of capitalism and socialism which was in vogue back in the 1960’s, Primakov the decent rival of “the oligarchs party”, which has recently restored its influence on the powers that be – all of these incarnations of Primakov may well be called for in the near future: “The stifling fumes of rumors about a possible coup d’etat which would bring down Yeltsin with the forces of the ‘premier and the Moscow mayor’ disappeared after Primakov’s dismissal, but the project to make the former premier’s name the first one on the list of the Fatherland bloc still remains.” The same idea is voiced by Izvestia, which is confident that, by the parliamentary election, Primakov will become the leader of the Fatherland movement founded by the Moscow mayor.
Last week’s main political battles developed around the new government. This is small wonder: according to Segodnya paper, the one who controls the pre-election government controls the election itself. In the paper’s opinion, Stepashin plays the role of “the respectable screen” for Yeltsin’s favorite system of checks and balances. Segodnya believes Berezovsky and Chubais to become the main rivals in the next stage of struggle for influence on the president and, naturally, on further developments, “Chubais is the ‘regent’ and Berezovsky is ‘the Family friend’. All the rest are forced to play according to the established rules.” The problem is, the paper notes, that the established system proves efficient only when the top of the pyramid of power is held by “a completely capable president having the situation under his full control,” which is currently, of course, is not the case. Therefore, Berezovsky and Chubais, who have focused on breaking through to power, “do not reckon with the fact that the presidential power is coming apart at the seams and that actually strong new centers of political influence – regional blocs and simply separate regional politicians – are appearing in this country.” Therefore, there exists a real danger that one who wins the battle in Moscow may completely lose the campaign outside it.
Vremya MN also writes about the oligarchs’ new role in politics, about them having “raised from stagnation.” An article dedicated to the current stage of development of the political situation in Russia names “three centers of power”: Berezovsky’s Moscow office, Gusinsky’s Moscow office, and Chubais’ office in RJES company. “It is senseless to ask who sits in the Kremlin in this case, for the Kremlin is inhabited by the same three forces in this or that embodiment, plus the not-too-healthy president, who has just won the game against a decent opponent.” The paper also notes that now the game is being played according the “two against one” plan: Chubais and Gusinsky obviously will not tolerate the alternative of Berezovsky individually controlling the high executive branch.
On the other hand, Kommersant-daily asserts, Berezovsky’s omnipotence has its time limits, “He will stay at the top exactly as long as the presidential milieu preserves its power.” Therefore it is evident that Berezovsky will work on various options of prolonging Yeltsin’s term as president, up to most exotic ones, “for instance, by means of postponing the presidential election in connection with the forming of an alliance of Russia and Belarus.” The paper is of the opinion that in that case the majority of oligarchs will support Berezovsky’s initiatives. And, of course, the search for a new candidate for president is inevitable: practically all the media unanimously remark that so far neither the president’s milieu nor the oligarchs have any appropriate candidate. As it was already stated, this role may well be offered to the new premier. “Then, the oligarchs’ truce will not last long.”
So far, the paper notes, there is no doubt that the president’s “family”, which is traditionally defending interests of the former executive secretary of the CIS before Yeltsin, will once again manage to organize proper information blockade of the head of state in connection with his leaving for Sochi to recreate. “According to our sources in the circles close to the government, it is exactly the next clash between Chubais and Berezovsky on which the next personnel appointment to the economic bloc of the government will depend. In this situation Yeltsin’s leave acquires an absolutely concrete political meaning.”
Various publications dwell on the topic of possible prolongation of Yeltsin’s presidency for another term. This idea was once again expressed in an interview to Sobesednik weekly by Mikhail Poltoranin, the former comrade-in-arms of Yeltsin, who with time, as the foreword to the article reads, has turned into “one of (the president’s) implacable enemies.” Answering the question about the prospects of the presidential election, Poltoranin absolutely openly said, “Yeltsin will on no account let go of power. He is not the one who is ready to confine himself to growing tomatoes at his personal dacha in Barvikha, like Khruschev.” In Poltoranin’s opinion, the president believes “that he is granted his post by destiny and has the right to do anything he likes,” therefore at the very last moment an option must inevitably be found which will allow him to remain at the top. We can only add that the story with the failed impeachment should have be one more proof to Yeltsin that this his belief is true.
If someone was punished by journalists for their disappointment owing to the meek finale of the impeachment intrigue, first of all it was Yabloko movement and its leader Grigory Yavlinsky. Nezavisimaya Gazeta, which on the eve of the impeachment voting called upon Yavlinsky for “manifesting the common sense” and refusing to support the accusations brought against Yeltsin, headlined its article reporting on the consequences of the May 15 voting “Farewell, Yabloko!” In the paper’s opinion, Yavlinsky is nearly the only one who lost as a result of the voting: Yeltsin won rather than lost – he took over the political initiative, the communists did not lose for real – “they did their best.” Our Home is Russia (NDR) movement increased its electorate, and first of all at the expense of Yabloko, which loss, the paper is certain, was absolute, “psychological, tactical, strategic, perhaps organizational – the possibility cannot be discounted that now the movement will split.” The paper is of the opinion that after Yabloko members supported the impeachment along with the Communists they lost no less than one to two million voters, “One cannot fail to realize that the Russian people and the majority of the elite perceive Yeltsin as a fighter against Communism.” Therefore, Yavlinsky, which in the given case acted in the capacity of “the Communists’ helper,” discredited himself.
Moskovsky Komsomolets shares this opinion. In an article under the headline “The defeat of the ‘Zyuganov-Yavlinsky’ bloc” the paper expresses the opinion that the major positive result of the failed impeachment was “the awakening of the people’s self-consciousness” at the moment of danger of a Communist revenge, “We will certainly not elect another such Duma for a second time, again thanks to Yavlinsky. Without his help the Communists would not have initiated all this nonsense, to begin with.”
Novye Izvestia reports about a scandal with Yabloko’s regional offices in Bashkiria, Tatarstan, Vologda, and several other regions. Representatives of these offices filed an appeal to the Ministry of Justice and demanded that the circumstances of the sudden liquidation of their organizations be investigated into. “Without as much as an explanation, but alluding to certain violations allegedly committed by these offices, the central headquarters of Yabloko simply kicked its regional branches out of its ranks. Nobody managed to obtain a clear answer to the question, ‘What for?’.” The regional Yabloko leaders think that the reason for such a radical decision lies in the upcoming parliamentary election, “The Duma is not elastic and can hold only that many of deputies. That is why the central Yabloko staff decided that it was a good time for a purge.” The regional leaders pre-electoral ambitions have become the cause of their political death. Some media are of the opinion that this approach to the situation, well in the spirit of Stalin, “No regional office, no cry,” is generally typical of Yabloko. Nezavisimaya Gazeta spoke even more determinedly on the topic, “The cult of Yavlinsky’s personality actually makes all other Yabloko members his serfs.”
Yury Luzhkov, the leader of Fatherland movement, has also encountered new difficulties. The idea of transferring the date of the Moscow mayoral election from summer 2000 to December 1999 provoked a series of comments and assumptions. It is understood that this decision is a sort of insurance on the eve of the presidential election: the papers unanimously noted that in the new situation Luzhkov is not at all sure that he will manage to win the presidential race, therefore he needs acknowledgment of his right to claim the post of Moscow mayor as insurance, just in case. As Vremya MN” remarked, “in December the mayoral election will become for Luzhkov a good warming-up with the guaranteed success.”
Apart from that, Luzhkov likewise is not certain that Fatherland will win the parliamentary election, and a possible failure of the movement might complicate its leader’s presidential campaign. And if the mayoral election’s date is transferred to an earlier period of time, Luzhkov will have a chance to explain Fatherland’s failure (if there is one) by the fact that he could not personally become the head of the movement of his adherents. “So, from this side the mayor will also be able to defend his rear.” Luzhkov is currently in obvious need for such a multi-layer defense: immediately after the end of the story with the impeachment Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who has recently become a real “mouthpiece of the Kremlin’s”, expressed the idea of liquidating the post of Moscow mayor and replacing it with the one of “member of the Russian government- minister for Moscow’s affairs.” Apart from other things, Zhirinovsky’s address to Yeltsin quoted by many media drew the president’s attention to the fact that the Moscow mayor has at his disposal “a great number of officers of security structures (riot police, the Regional Department for Counteracting Organized Crime, police forces, the FSS) and also around 100,000 well-armed guards from commercial security structures.”
Simultaneously with Zhirinovsky’s address, Konstantin Titov, the leader of Voice of Russia movement, suggested that Moscow and the Moscow region are merged into one Federation subject. Nezavisimaya Gazeta reports that the same proposal was voiced at the founding congress of the Moscow office of Voice of Russia. Leonid Polyakov, the leader of the Russian Liberal Conservative Union (“whose ideology is propagated in the bloc”), expressed the opinion that Moscow is “underrepresented” in the Federation Council, since, according to the law, the Moscow mayor represents “the local self-governing organs of Moscow, not the gubernatorial authorities” in the upper chamber of the parliament. It was suggested that in December 1999, simultaneously with the parliamentary election, a referendum be held on the topic of merging Moscow and the Moscow region. Polyakov said, “It is high time we returned Moscow back, to Russia.”
To all appearances, Fatherland’s relations with All Russia, the “governors’ movement”, which founding congress was for unknown reasons transferred from the Moscow Column Hall to Tavrichesky Palace in St. Petersburg, are also far from being excellent. Segodnya has it that the move of “Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev, the former unofficial leader of the governors’ bloc,” namely his agreement to enter an election alliance with Luzhkov’s movement, was considered “a political mistake.” The pivoting point was Primakov’s dismissal: it became clear that Fatherland’s chances of becoming the party of power had sharply decreased, and far from all are ready to, in the paper’s words, “lie down under Luzhkov,” who is now taken to be the sure candidate for president. As a result, St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev has become the new unofficial leader of All Russia, and “the movement’s parliamentary campaign will proceed from a rather simple opposition between ‘the Moscow elite’ and ‘our own lads, who know the needs of their native region’.”
Luzhkov did not wait for long to react to these new tendencies. Nezavisimaya Gazeta reports that during his speech at the founding congress of the nationwide trade union of employees of non-state security enterprises the Moscow mayor stated that “all these and like suggestions are nothing but provocation.” All his recent difficulties Luzhkov connected with the activities of the Kremlin administration, which, he believes, is responsible for aggravating the situation in this country, “They do not like Moscow, they do not like independence of the city administration, and so they start producing such ideas.”
The paper reports that in connection with the latest events in the Duma Luzhkov noted that although the impeachment had fallen through the lower chamber still had given its appraisal to the president’s activity, “And this appraisal is very sad, not to say more.” In addition, Luzhkov once again expressed his disagreement with the Primakov government’s dismissal, but noted that he accepts actions of the higher powers “as long as they do not go beyond the legitimate constitutional limits.” However, the paper stresses, Luzhkov considered it necessary to define these limits by saying, “We will do everything possible in order to prevent non-constitutional developments of the situation in our country.”
The Duma’s confirmation in the second reading of the new edition of the law on election raised a new wave of discussions about the electoral legislation. Segodnya sees the chief merit of this law in the possibility to considerably reduce the state expenditures on holding election campaigns. From this viewpoint, one of the major innovations is introduction of election deposits instead of the usually wearisome collection of signatures in support of a candidate. As the deposit is not returned if the candidate fails to get elected, this provides a good opportunity of compensating for a large part of pre-election expenses. Apart from that, candidates and election associations which have failed to score the necessary minimum of votes will have to return to the budget the money transferred to their election funds. Thus, the paper reads, lovers of free advertisement are sure to be terribly disappointed. And if we recall that in the 1995 parliamentary elections 26 out of the 43 registered associations failed to gather even one percent of votes, the sense of these innovations becomes absolutely clear.
Alexander Veshnyakov, chairman of the Central Electoral Committee, in his interview to Nezavisimaya Gazeta calls upon the voters for not doubting the possibility of an honest election. In his opinion, the new edition of the law on electing deputies of the Duma, which was worked out with regard to all the sad experience of the past several years, will serve this very goal.
However, Novye Izvestia appraises the new law in a much more skeptical key. In its opinion, the most essential part of the law in question – the provisions for counting votes – contains serious drawbacks which “allow to falsify the results of the election without the threat of being made accountable for this.” For instance, if ballots drawn up in a wrong way (without seals or signatures of the election commission members, etc.) are found in ballot-boxes they are simply not taken stock of, which, in the paper’s opinion, is obvious permissiveness of new attempted falsifications.
Pre-term voting, which caused so many reproaches (for instance, during the election in St. Petersburg) is replaced with voting with absentee ballots. However, this practice does not eliminate the possibility of certain people obtaining non-registered absentee ballots and voting with them in different constituencies: the law stipulates no collation of lists of voters who vote in constituencies other than their own ones. The paper mentions many more ways by which the election’s results may be distorted and draws the following conclusion, “So, election commissions may actually become winners of future elections, and an honest election is still something to be dreamed of.”