THE UPCOMING FEDERAL ELECTIONS AS REPORTED BY THE CENTRAL MEDIA
The tragic events of the past several days have once again brought the topic of the declaration of a state of emergency in Russia and, correspondingly, the probability of restrictions of civilian freedoms (first of all the possible cancellation or postponement of the upcoming elections) into the limelight.
On the other hand, we cannot say that this topic has ever been neglected by the media for a very long time: the constant center of tension in the North Caucasus, and later the new Caucasian war, forced the observers of various publications to constantly bear in mind the possibility of such a development. And now the monstrous explosions in Moscow have forced literally every politician determine his attitude toward this problem. According to Izvestia, some politicians, like Vladimir Putin and Yury Luzhkov, assert with surety that there is no reason to declare a state of emergency. Others, like, for instance, Altai Governor Alexander Surikov, do not rule out such a possibility and state, “The situation in Russia is really an emergency one. We should decide what is more important for this country – the life of the state and the people or the elections.” Still others, including Vladimir Isakov, Chair of the Duma’s Law Department, fear that the Kremlin will not fail to take advantage of the situation. The opposition openly points out that “declaration of a state of emergency in Russia under the pretext of the Dagestani war and the terrorist acts in Moscow would suit the Kremlin just fine.”
Everybody noted the state authorities’ bewilderment after the first terrorist acts, and therefore the Kremlin’s already customary unpredictability is forcing society and the press to wait for the worst. At any rate, it is difficult to find another explanation for the media’s anxious inquiries: “Where does civil order stop and ’emergency’ arbitrariness of the state start as regards counteracting crime? Is declaration of a state of emergency the absolutely necessary price to pay for order?”
These questions, rhetorical in their essence, were posed by Segodnya. The paper explains its viewpoint: “The struggle against terrorism demands more self-organization of society than what currently exists in Russia… Unfortunately, the matter concerns not just citizens’ carelessness and lack of intolerance of delinquencies…” The paper is of the opinion that it is possible to counteract terrorism only if good relations exist between society and the powers that be, which so far can only be dreamed about. “Russia’s main problem is that ordinary people have not yet decided for themselves whom they dislike more – gangsters or the corrupt police and authorities. And until the question of the people’s trust is solved in favor of the powers that be, this country will not be helped by the declaration of even the most severe state of emergency.”
Nevertheless, Izvestia believes that tough measures may start to be taken at any moment as “the authorities’ natural reaction to the situation”. The paper reminds its readers that ten years ago, after the disintegration of the USSR, the customary “system of universal fear” disappeared. Unfortunately, however, a new system of power “based on the numerous interests of Russian citizens, instead of general fear” failed to be established, the paper maintains. Therefore, in the current emergency situation the powers that be are likely to want to bring back the already half-forgotten “general fear” as “the only environment in which these powers that be can work efficiently, at least to some extent.”
Izvestia believes that if the relevant decision is made it is unlikely to encounter serious social opposition: “Perhaps the only reason why such a development has not happened yet is the excessive number of people who wish to play the role of the Firm Hand.”
Kommersant-daily, which, as usual, possesses information “from well-informed sources in the Presidential Administration”, informs its readers that the Kremlin has already prepared various alternatives of further actions which are not necessarily connected with declaring a state of emergency. One such alternative may be a “special regime” in all “restless spots”, to which Moscow is now ascribed. In that case, “By the time of the parliamentary elections half of the Russian population may well be prevented from participating in it. Formally this will not mean cancellation of the elections, but in reality it will become possible to postpone it for as long and as many times as the Kremlin wishes.”
According to another scenario suggested by Kommersant-daily, the presidential election may, on the contrary, be held ahead of schedule due to Boris Yeltsin’s resignation. (This topic is also being actively discussed, and various media are naming different would-be dates for the resignation between September 16 and 26, but the majority insist on September 19, exactly three months prior to the parliamentary election.) According to this scenario, in which Vladimir Putin plays the major role, the prime minister is to become acting president and set a date for a pre-term presidential election. On the other hand, Kommersant-daily does not fully believe in the practicability of this plan, and in this connection quotes “an experienced Kremlin staffer who has nothing to do with the development of this idea” who remarked skeptically, “Show me a person who would dare submit such a text (i.e. the text of the president’s resignation) to the president.”
Nevertheless, it is this very alternative that has been enjoying the greatest popularity over the past several days. Komsomolskaya Pravda” explains that the alternative’s major benefit from the viewpoint of the Presidential Administration must lie in the fact that in that case all the electoral blocs which were recently created with such great pains would find themselves under threat of disintegration. Those blocs’ leaders – Primakov, Zyuganov, and Yavlinsky – are unlikely to give up their presidential ambitions, and if they leave their movements in order to run for president their blocs may be barred from participating in the parliamentary election. This problem has practically no rational solution, both variants (that of running in the presidential election or giving it up) being equally inconvenient for the majority of candidates. At the same time, during the three months that are left before December 19 Putin has a good chance of “organizing decent advertisement of his candidacy and becoming a worthy rival of Primakov, the current political favorite”.
The same possibility is mentioned in an interview with Alexei Sitnikov, President of the Image-Contact company, which was published in the journal Expert” . Sitnikov likewise believes that if the date of the presidential election is set for December 1999, the same time as the parliamentary one, all the newborn political parties, movements, and blocs will find themselves “in a stupid situation”. However, such a scenario is sure to affect Mayor of Moscow Yury Luzhkov, who has already seen to it that the date of the Moscow mayoral election was rescheduled for December 19, 1999, most painfully. In that case Luzhkov would be deprived of all hope of winning presidency and literally “forced to concentrate his electoral efforts in Moscow”, which would certainly be a great disappointment for the ambitious mayor.
In addition, Maksim Sokolov, an Izvestia observer, remarks that, even if Luzhkov is reelected mayor of Moscow (the probability of is doubted by nobody), his authority will be even more “narrow and scarce” than before. Unlike the current electoral situation, in which the mayor of Moscow is “tsar, God, and the military commander who imperiously tramples down the walls of the weak Kremlin”, after the upcoming election he will become “what, in fact, he really must be in theory – a firm economic leader dealing with the problems of Moscow’s prosperity.”
Sokolov states that this alteration of Luzhkov’s status is connected with the fact that, for him, the 2000 election will be the last one. Luzhkov is already not so young: “in 2004 he will be as old as Yeltsin is now.” On the other hand, Sokolov notes that we are currently observing “an outburst of social gerontophilia” which is manifested first and foremost “in the worship of the aged Primakov”, but that there is no hope that these moods will last until the 2000 election. There is also another discouraging factor: after Luzhkov decided to participate in open political struggle the taboo against criticizing the Moscow administration was abolished, “and the first consequences of this abolition are already to be seen”. According to Izvestia, during the past three months the number of supporters of the Moscow administration in the capital has decreased from 83% to 75%, whereas the number of people who are discontent with the performance of municipal organs has grown from 8% to 12%. The reason for these alterations, in Izvestia’s opinion, is that it has become possible to discuss the performance of the Moscow administration, “even if so far in a low voice”. This tendency will probably continue, and it is obvious that after the election the mayor of Moscow will no longer be able to play the role of “local tsar and God”.
On the other hand, the possibility cannot be ruled out that not everything is lost for Luzhkov in terms of his plans to run for president. Moskovsky Komsomolets” put it bluntly: “It is a good question whether or not Yeltsin hates Luzhkov strongly enough to be willing to resign in favor of him.”
Nezavisimaya Gazeta, for instance, believes that all public conflicts between the Kremlin and the Moscow Administration are nothing more than a skillful deception, and that in reality it is none other than Luzhkov who is Yeltsin’s true (although so far secret) successor.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta substantiates its viewpoint. In its opinion, Luzhkov has always been and still remains a loyal member of the president’s team, and his criticism of the Kremlin is the result of a thoroughly considered strategic plan. According to this theory, Putin is nothing more than the chief of the “technical” cabinet of ministers, whose major task is to lead society to the election by means of various “electoral inflation of calamities” and then lose that election to “Luzhkov, ‘the mayor in opposition’, who will by that time have acquired a great deal of popularity.”
Apart from that, sufficient proof of Luzhkov’s adherence to Yeltsin’s team, in the paper’s opinion, is the fact that, in his own personnel policy, he relies exclusively on people from the president’s close circle – Yastrzhembsky, Kokoshin, Tarpishchev, Savostyanov, etc. Nezavisimaya Gazeta even asserts that, according to “a source in the Presidential Administration”, certain retired officials of the Administration continue to keep in touch with its leader, Alexander Voloshin, and are sometimes given “tasks of adjusting Luzhkov’s behavior” by the Administration. The likelihood of this assumption (as well as that of the entire theory of “Luzhkov the Successor”) is difficult to estimate, but we may well imagine what impression such a passage would make on Primakov, who in an interview to NTV called Voloshin an intriguer and the culprit for his (Primakov’s) dismissal from the post of prime minister. Nezavisimaya Gazeta is, as usual, fairly consistent in its anti-Primakov attack, and reminds its readers further on that the former prime minister is rated No. 1 on the electoral list of the Fatherland-All Russia bloc. However, if we assume that “the Kremlin and Luzhkov are playing a game of their own”, it becomes obvious that, in such a situation, “there will no place for Primakov in the bloc”.
The journal Profil possesses absolutely different information, although it also received it from “sources in the Presidential Administration”. According to it, there is complete understanding between Primakov and Luzhkov. Furthermore, for the purpose of averting extremely unfavorable (for Luzhkov) developments if the presidential election is rescheduled for December 1999, such as disintegration of his electoral bloc, lack absence of a powerful faction of his own in parliament, etc., Primakov managed (neither more, nor less) to initiate the so-called banking scandal in the Western press. The journal states that the Kremlin’s plan for the president’s resignation and Putin running in the pre-term presidential election would wreck the well-considered strategy of Primakov and Luzhkov, who have already planned their future actions until 2000. So it was decided to give this scenario up, “in other words, to prevent Yeltsin from resigning ahead of time.” That much was done, too: the anti-corruption campaign in the Western, and then the Russian, press should, according to Profil’s” theory, prevent the Kremlin from implementing its plan: “It is only by remaining on top of power that Yeltsin can protect himself and his relations from such a serious blow. For if he leaves the Kremlin in such an ambush he may well find himself in prison instead of his personal pension dacha.”
Novoye Vremya also believes that the banking scandal suits Fatherland-All Russia. On the other hand, this time the paper names not Primakov but Luzhkov as the one who ordered the scandal. Even the sum of the order is named: $250,000. On the other hand, Novoye Vremya does not rule out the possibility that Luzhkov is being libeled. However, in the weekly’s opinion, the consequences of the scandal remain the same, regardless of its client: “Someone wants to discredit an entire generation of politicians, to prevent them from promoting their nominee for president in 2000.” That much happened: the weekly is of the opinion that “by the next presidential election we are sure to be suffering from stagnation in the economy and foreign and domestic policy. The generation of Luzhkov and Primakov and the regional elite of the semi-Soviet type will run together in the elections and win them all, domestic policy will cease to interest anyone, and foreign policy will lose all sense, because the West will look on Russia with suspicion.”
Novoye Vremya calls the compromising materials which caused the new information war “a political Chernobyl on a global scale”. Argumenty i Fakty” foresees another electoral danger. The weekly maintains that the Kremlin is fighting the bloc of Primakov and Luzhkov in order to “clear the way for the triumphal procession of the Communists straight into the Duma”, which will cause the Duma of the new convocation to differ only insignificantly from the current one – perhaps the only difference will be the increased representation of radicals like Makashov, Korzhakov, and Ilyukhin among the deputies. And since the new Duma’s political role will inevitably increase, this will have rather severe consequences, in particular for the president’s close circle, which will have actually provoked such a result of the election.
According to Kommersant-daily, the left opposition in the current Duma has prepared amendments to the Constitution limiting the president’s authority and putting the government under the total control of parliament. It is those amendments, in the paper’s opinion, that will become “the real hit of the new electoral season”.
Izvestia, in turn, familiarizes its readers with the essence of the said amendments, which threaten to turn the presidential republic which currently exists in Russia into a parliamentary one. In particular, the paper states, it is suggested that the president coordinate candidates not only for prime minister but also for “key ministerial posts” with the Duma. On the other hand, Our Home is Russia, Yabloko, and some independent deputies support an even more radical measure: they believe that the president should appoint a prime minister from among the parties which constitute the parliamentary majority. In addition, a special amendment introduces an institution of parliamentary investigation, as a result of which all government officials will be obliged to attend meetings of deputy commissions. In accordance with another amendment, the general prosecutor is granted the right of legislative initiative. There also are other proposals. Izvestia remarks that it is not by chance that the Communists are in such a hurry to amend the Constitution: “On the eve of the election they must have at least something to boast to their voters.”
The press writes about Prime Minister Putin with a fair share of sympathy. On the one hand, the press has been observing a certain growth in his rating over the past few weeks, but on the other hand it emphasizes the great complexity of the tasks before him. According to Vek” , there are three major tasks for the prime minister: exterminating Basaev’s guerrillas, cleaning up the banking scandal, and reaching an agreement with the centrist opposition (Primakov-Luzhkov plus Yavlinsky-Stepashin).
However, the paper notes, even if Putin manages to achieve success, his difficulties would only be starting at that point: “He is supposed to solve all the three problems in such a way that all the achievements can be attributed to Yeltsin, and of course he must take responsibility for all the mistakes, but in such a cunning way that the ratio of achievements to mistakes does not serve as a formal reason for the president to dismiss him.” Needless to say, fulfilling all these conditions in the current situation can be done only some fairy-tale personage, one possessing a magic wand or enjoying the benevolence and support of higher powers, even in the person of a talking pike or a little humpbacked horse.
Nevertheless, Putin is not abandoning his efforts: the press has praised him for a good debut in the foreign political arena in New Zealand, where the prime minister was introduced as Yeltsin’s successor. Moskovsky Komsomolets” writes that, although upon his arrival at the Auckland airport Putin looked, as usual, “imperturbable and impenetrable”, still “people who know the prime minister well” noticed that he was slightly nervous.
On the other hand, Putin’s stay in New Zealand was interrupted. After another explosion in Moscow Putin discontinued his visit to New Zealand. Meanwhile, according to Moskovsky Komsomolets, as soon as the first shock from the explosion on Guryanov Street was overcome, the political elite “hastened to avail itself of the situation: the tragedy of dozens of Moscow families became just another trump card in the jostle for power.” As the press had warned, the politicians’ main target became the Moscow Administration – it was accused of excessive political activity and incapability of providing for the peace and security of Muscovites. Viktor Ilyukhin expressed his opinion in the most straightforward way: “If Luzhkov wants to preserve Muscovites’ lives and health, he must drop out of Fatherland and give up running in the election.” Thus, the terrorist acts were directly connected to the opposition between the Kremlin and the mayor of Moscow.
Vladimir Zhirinovsky was no less straightforward: “If the Moscow Administration is incapable of counteracting terrorism, it must be replaced.” It is of interest, Moskovsky Komsomolets” states, that in response to Ilyukhin’s criticism Luzhkov advised him to visit the Moscow health care department, but he simply ignored Zhirinovsky’s attacks: “During the years of Zhirinovsky’s political activity many people have attempted to cure him, but in vain.”
Ordinary Muscovites, those who survived the explosions but lost their homes, reacted even more calmly and serenely to the speeches of the politicians who visited the site of the first terrorist act. They were thankful to the Moscow Administration for being granted new apartments, and generally thankful to everybody who promised assistance to them. The encouraged people cried to Luzhkov, who reported about the allocation of new apartments, “Yury Mikhailovich, we will cast our votes in favor of you!” On the other hand, Moskovsky Komsomolets” maintains that Yavlinsky and Zhirinovsky heard the same words from the survivors of the explosion. “The people are ready to play with politicians according to the same rules they themselves are using,” the paper concludes.