The Central Election Commission has finally been brought to the forefront of the electoral rush. Its refusal to register the LDPR made a fairly strong impression on the press, since it was the first radical case of the application of electoral legislation. One of the first things the press paid attention to in this connection was the financial side of the matter. Perhaps it was due to the notorious mercantilism of Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s supporters that the press wrote about their financial losses (the LDPR paid an electoral deposit instead of collecting signatures in its support) not without malicious joy. Segodnya stated, “Two million rubles have replenished the country’s budget by falling straight out of the blue.” Thus, the election has ceased to be only an expenditure item of the Russian budget.

Obshchaya Gazeta assumed that in order to be put on the LDPR’s federal list many candidates who were turned down by the Central Election Commission had “paid great sums of money, and now they are likely to want their money back.” However, according to the paper’s sources, the LDPR has no spare money: “The party’s guaranteed business has suddenly gone bankrupt, and now Zhirinovsky might as well start making his living by begging.”

On the other hand, Alexander Vengerovsky, Zhirinovsky’s former compatriot and an indubitable expert on the psychology of the LDPR leader, warns all whom it may concern that there is no use in hoping to reacquire investments in the LDPR: “I am sure that this time, just like always, he will find a way to get away with it by saying something like, ‘You cannot blame me for anything, it’s you who failed to prepare properly.'” Vengerovsky is of the opinion that Zhirinovsky is more likely to start pretending to be the victim in this case: “He may well start demanding compensation for moral harm, too.”

On the other hand, as is known, Zhirinovsky did not grieve for too long. With all dubious figures taken off his federal list, the new “Zhirinovsky’s bloc” has already been registered. On the other hand, as well-known deputy Alexander Korzhakov remarked in Literaturnaya Gazeta, “Properly speaking, why can criminal elements not enter the Duma? Currently we have criminal elements everywhere, including in the Kremlin, don’t we now?” As the poet put it, “The opinion is certainly barbarous, but it is true.”

As far as Zhirinovsky is concerned, Kommersant-daily is of the opinion that the Central Election Commission organized its rejection as an advertising campaign for the LDPR leader which may be worth the money it lost on the deposit.

At the same time, papers are of the unanimous opinion that Zhirinovsky will be elected to the Duma anyway, for “The Kremlin needs him in Parliament” (a quotation from Vremya MN), and the story of him being denied registration was simply “for show” (a term coined by Moskovsky Komsomolets).

Absolutely unexpectedly, the sad prospect of being left without the odious figure of Zhirinovsky moved Segodnya observer Leonid Radzizovsky to write something bordering on a panegyric dedicated to the LDPR leader and his compatriots: “The LDPR faction in the Duma is absolutely harmless as far as its content (they vote as they are told to and absolutely do not think about such nasty thing as the content of laws being voted on – they have another fish to fry) and extremely useful as far as its form. The LDPR faction is just the pinch of salt that makes the parliamentary broth edible for its audience.” Radzikhovsky hopes that in the future the people will not be deprived of the “unpretentious pleasure” of contemplating Zhirinovsky. According to the observer, Zhirinovsky himself is “the best and most talented character of Zoshchenko and Raikin Soviet-era satirists – translator’s note, who conquered the parliamentary tribune in one stretch.” Radzikhovsky expresses deep repentance when recalling his own attacks against Zhirinovsky on the eve of the last election and promises to never take the LDPR leader seriously again: “I hope that he will continue to entertain people, be a nuisance to the likes of Makashov, pester the speaker, create soup of Russian democracy, and get paid for these holy deeds for a long time.”

Unlike with the LDPR, the problems with the registration of Yabloko’s federal party lists caused much fewer signs of sympathy in the press. On the other hand, the revealed violations of legislation were not held against Grigory Yavlinsky’s movement, and Yabloko was registered after all. Meanwhile, Nezavisimaya Gazeta is of the opinion that Yabloko failed to justify “the electorate’s clear and bright hopes pinned on it.” According to the paper’s calculations, the sum omitted in the income declaration of the leader of “the most intellectual” electoral association equals approximately 1,000 minimum wages. The paper states that if Yabloko’s loyal electorate is unlikely to change its sympathies owing to such a trifle, then “chance voters”, who, actually, are the main object of the electoral struggle, are now as good as lost for Yavlinsky. In addition, Nezavisimaya Gazeta is of the opinion that “the fact that the Central Election Commission has forgiven Yavlinsky his serious misdemeanor has given rise to doubts about the fairness of the Commission’s decisions.”

Izvestia was no less resolute in its appraisal of Yavlinsky’s case. The paper accused the Central Election Commission of using double standards and noted that members of the Commission “are guided by their political sympathies” when making decisions.

Segodnya was more indulgent in its assessment of the situation with Yabloko. The paper believes that the reason for the incident was “politicians’ universal detachment from reality, the fact that they often transfer the obligation to fill out and submit their income declarations to their aides.” Nevertheless, Yabloko has become the third electoral association after Fatherland-All Russia and the Communist Party whose electoral lists have been registered with the Central Election Commission. Certain incidents also took place with the bloc of Primakov and Luzhkov. Owing to the fact that certain members of Fatherland-All Russia had “concealed” their incomes and property – mainly cars sold by proxy but still owned in their names – ten people were forced to leave the movement’s federal list.

As for the CPRF, its “losses” – nine people taken off the party list – equal the losses of the other blocs. However, as Kommersant-daily noted, the Communists did their best to avoid excessive attention to their registration. In the paper’s opinion, the reason for such behavior lies with the fact that the violations of the Communist leaders “proved to be fairly typical of prosperous people”. One CPRF candidate had forgotten to mention a Jeep Cherokee in his income declaration, another one omitted a Mercedes Benz 500. Well, they got their punishment for being so absent-minded. Sergei Potapov, Secretary for Organizational Issues of the Central Committee of the CPRF, stated, “We feel deep resentment about our comrades’ fates.”

In general, we can assert that the object of criticism on the part of the press was not so much the violations revealed during the examination of party lists (the more so as those violations were absolutely the same kind in parties of all political stripes) as the performance of the Central Election Commission itself, which has actually turned into a center of power. Kommersant-vlast’ weekly noted in this connection that “the Central Election Commission has taken possession of a perfect means of influence, but it is using this means not to disclose ‘criminal elements’ but to make decisions which it needs.” Indeed, there are no definite criteria for determining the importance or unimportance of violations in the compilation of party lists. The stories with Yabloko and the LDPR demonstrated that the final decision may be ambiguous and depend “on the frame of mind of the members of the Central Election Commission, on higher considerations, or on the current political situation.” On the other hand, Kommersant-vlast’ goes much further in its assumptions and states, “How many candidates will there be who will be willing to pay the commission for declaring their violations unimportant? In that case, even the most ‘criminal-free’ election will turn out to be the most corrupt one possible.”

Director of the Independent Elections Institute Alexander Ivanchenko, a former chairman of the Central Election Committee, shares the opinion that current electoral legislation creates numerous opportunities for abuses of power. In an interview to Nezavisimaya Gazeta Ivanchenko explained his viewpoint, “We have gone further than any country in the world. Currently, there are 11 grounds to refuse registration to a party or movement and 18 reasons for revoking registration. In addition, this is done according to the principle of an ‘open list’, i.e. the enumeration of concrete grounds to refuse registration ends with the wording, ‘and other violations’.” Ivanchenko maintains that this factor creates a loophole for violators. He believes that the Central Election Commission need only point out revealed defects to candidates for them to correct the mistakes in time. Otherwise, the Constitutional rights of citizens are violated, “For the right of choice belongs exclusively to voters, it is they who have the right to either support one party or other or deny it their trust.” According to Ivanchenko, the Central Election Commission has no right to dispose of the fate of candidates without a relevant legal verdict. Otherwise, the results of the election may be protested in courts on all possible levels, including the Constitutional Court, which may well lead to a serious crisis of the entire electoral system. Ivanchenko does not doubt that “as a result of the upcoming elections we will witness serious adjustments of Russian electoral legislation and the very principles of electing Parliament.”

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin remains in the limelight of the electoral press. Komsomolskaya Pravda states that “people continue to like Putin more and more” and that the prime minister has only one last step to take to become “an undoubted candidate for president”. However, the paper adds, this step implies a victory in Chechnya.

In a long analytical article dedicated to Putin, Nezavisimaya Gazeta concludes that he has “obviously transformed…from the prime minister into the ‘military premier’.” This transformation, according to the paper, was a result of the current political situation, in which Putin can only profit from a certain militarization of his image. However, Nezavisimaya Gazeta remarks that the current state of affairs cannot last too long: “It is absolutely obvious that the government will not manage to settle the Chechen problem in a short period of time.” Putin may well turn from the master of the situation into its hostage. The paper even mentions Putin’s “Lebedization”, which manifests itself, for instance, in his imitation of General Lebed’s well-known style of interacting with people. “However, what appears natural for Lebed looks ridiculous when applied to Putin and, to be frank, does not become him.” And the paper sees the main manifestation of the “Lebedization” of the prime minister in Putin’s association with a certain logic of conquering power – “through crisis, in the given case through the Chechen crisis.” The paper takes this logic to be dangerous and warns the prime minister that, as the combat operations in the North Caucasus continue, the number of losses among federal troops will grow, and Putin’s rating will stop growing. And if more terrorist acts are organized on Russian territory, the government’s popularity will vanish as quickly as it appeared.

However, the major grudges against Putin are connected with the upcoming elections. According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, “The president expected a lot from Putin. These expectations have been partially fulfilled, but not those having to do with the electoral campaign.” The Kremlin’s major rival, Fatherland-All Russia, has still not been barred from running in the election. Therefore, the paper concludes unambiguously, Putin “cannot and must not consider himself protected by Yeltsin’s well-known words that he is his successor. For, himself the political product of Yeltsin’s inner circle, Putin is actually a very vulnerable politician who can easily be discarded in the current large-scale political game in which the stakes are much higher than they were back in 1996.”

Nobody could express his opinion about Putin better than “Berezovsky’s paper”. However, Senior Deputy Chief of the Presidential Administration Igor Shabdurasulov did so. He stated at a press conference, “So far the Presidential Administration has not found a person to support in the presidential election, since the nomination of candidates for president has not started yet.” (a quotation from Segodnya). The paper is of the opinion that this statement is equal to a death sentence for Putin in his capacity as prime minister. Indeed, Segodnya notes, the Kremlin has absolutely no reason to like Putin: “The modest lieutenant colonel from the reserve of the Foreign Intelligence Service has surpassed all the former favorites of the Kremlin” by undertaking deeds “becoming of a president”. Namely, he undertook responsibility for the war in the North Caucasus (“The deed that nobody before him had dared undertake.”) and also managed to reshape the draft 2000 budget in favor of the military (“And the army is sure to respond to this favor on the first occasion.”). As far as Putin’s image is concerned (what Nezavisimaya Gazeta called “Lebedization”), Segodnya is of the opinion that everything is all right there, too, “Of course, Putin’s democratic ways often shock intellectuals (when he suddenly switches to the criminal argot or, say, gives the Wahhabis the televised finger). On the other hand, ‘ordinary working people’ appear to like such behavior – they are dying for a firm hand and a ‘just tsar’.”

Taking into account all the aforementioned, Segodnya arrives at the conclusion that the danger of the dismissal of the prime minister is increasing. However, according to the paper, the would-be dismissal will not stop Putin’s political career, for if he is forced to leave the government he can avail himself of the opportunity to conclude a full-fledged political union with Alexander Lebed, “Thus, the dismissal of the last prime minister may well become the last and grossest mistake of the president’s inner circle.”

It is hard to say whether or not these warnings made any impression on the Presidential Administration, but only three days after the article was published in Segodnya Putin reacquired the status of Yeltsin’s successor. Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Yakushkin announced that Yeltsin still considers the prime minister “a worthy candidate for president”. (A quotation from Segodnya.)

On the other hand, Moskovsky Komsomolets is certain that the rumors about Putin’s possible dismissal that were circulating all last week are nothing more than a skillful image-making trick, “For with help of such rumors Putin will only acquire the image of an opposition prime minister; it is difficult to raise one’s rating without such an image nowadays.” In reality, according to the paper, “Yeltsin’s inner circle is continues to support the ‘official successor’.”

Accoridng to Vek weekly, Yevgeny Primakov is to be considered Putin’s major rival in the battle for the Kremlin’s attention. The paper believes that we are currently witnessing not simply rivalry between two politicians but rather “the opposition of two different social demands or, if you wish, of different Russias of the next century.” Primakov’s Russia, tired of changes, wants serenity and stability, whereas Putin’s Russia, “not willing to live within the framework and according to the rules created for it by the current superpowers…strives to assume a decent position in the world” and rejects the “meek-and-mild” philosophy. The paper is convinced that the major intrigue of the upcoming presidential race will be not in the conflict between democrats and Communists or nationalists and supporters of Western-style society, but “the collision between two political and psychological tendencies in Russian society – between the Russia that is ready to hibernate until better times and the Russia that wants to build a prosperous future right here and now.”

The aforementioned former Number 2 figure in the LDPR, Alexander Vengerovsky, currently Chair of the Duma Subcommittee for Foreign Intelligence, also assumes that Primakov may turn out to be a “Kremlin successor”, but does it in a much more pragmatic way. In his opinion, “In the end the Kremlin will fraternize with Primakov,” for “It is very pleasant when all candidates on the list are ‘our people’!” Vengerovsky believes that in the near future the Kremlin will complete “its operation to create a leader of the national majority”. This leader will be none other than Primakov, “The wise president, who will be accompanied by Putin, a competent prime minister.” As for Mayor of Moscow Yury Luzhkov, Primakov’s compatriot in Fatherland-All Russia, he will be warned, “If you want to remain mayor of Moscow, then act correctly.” In Vengerovsky’s opinion, Luzhkov is already acting in that manner “by stating that his personal dream is to be elected mayor of Moscow and love his wife – a would-be Duma deputy.”

Moskovsky Komsomolets also noted that the attacks against Luzhkov and Fatherland-All Russia do not affect Primakov in any way and that Primakov’s rating as promulgated by ORT is even higher than that reported by NTV. The explanation remains the same: Primakov, who, unlike Luzhkov, does not spoil his relations with anyone, may well become the Kremlin’s next successor to replace Putin.

Novye Izvestia maintains that such a situation greatly irritates the mayor of Moscow, who has recently been suffering from enough other irritants as it is: “Luzhkov’s irritation is understandable – is it a just situation when an academic Primakov – translator’s note is ‘carrying on and keeping his hands clean, whereas the mayor is doomed to shovel the rubbish dump away? But what is to be done here if Primakov has distributed the roles in exactly this order?'”

Meanwhile, Sobesednik reports that, according to Vengerovsky, “The most dangerous materials compromising Primakov are still being stored in the West and may be published at the most inconvenient moment.” Moskovsky Komsomolets also writes on the topic and warns Primakov that for him the lull can last only until December 1999, “For after the parliamentary election Primakov will no longer be able to hide behind the back of the mayor of Moscow.” Scenarios of future dramas are already being prepared: “What must happen to Primakov will be a repetition of the situation that predetermined the dismissal of the Chubais government in 1997.” The matter concerns $70,000 which Primakov allegedly received as advance payment for his commissioned but still-not-written memoirs. Simultaneously another story is being worked on, namely the one about “a concealed bribe”, exactly according to the scenario applied to Chubais. This story is to emerge after the parliamentary election, first in the Western media, then in Russia. Moskovsky Komsomolets warns that “a grandiose provocation” is being prepared against Primakov. The aim of that provocation is to “make him vindicate himself” and “sow the seeds of mistrust” between the co-chairmen of Fatherland-All Russia, which in any case will benefit the Kremlin. As far as Luzhkov is concerned, the Kremlin is fighting him on several fronts at once. Since Luzhkov’s popularity in Moscow is extremely high, AiF-Moskva writes, the ultimate task of his enemies is to prevent him from winning the election in the first round, thus necessitating a second one. Let the mayor win the second round, for “At any rate, such a victory will be a personal defeat for him.” Therefore there is no need to be amazed by the number of people who wish to run against Luzhkov in Moscow – leader of New Force Sergei Kirienko, Chief of the Department of Presidential Affairs Pavel Borodin, LDPR member Alexei Mitrofanov, and even leader of the rock group Korrozia Metalla Sergei Troitsky. AiF-Moskva has no doubt that by November the number of people who wish to run against Luzhkov in the parliamentary election will total over 20.

Simultaneously, according to the paper, various sorts of compromising materials are being gathered against the mayor of Moscow. One of the topics currently being actively discussed by the media is the alleged collaboration between the Moscow City Administration and businessmen from the Moscow Chechen Diaspora . Those businessmen “often do not conceal the fact that they send part of the money they earn in the capital to Chechnya.”

Sobesednik weekly speaks even more openly about the Luzhkov administration’s contacts with Chechens who live in Moscow. The paper states that Chechen businessmen “Have duly made their contributions to the financial prosperity of the guerrillas during the eight long years of the opposition between Grozny and the federal center.” According to the paper, after the terrorist acts in Moscow Sergei Lisovsky, an influential member of Luzhkov’s inner circle and the imagemaker of Movladi Udugov, a candidate for president of Chechnya, held negotiations with “representatives of the gangsters whom the Russian military had promised to exterminate like rats.”

Sobesednik remarks that it is possible that, among other purposes, the money which Moscow Chechens were sending home as compensation for not participating in the war was used for the organization of these negotiations. The negotiations proved to be a success – so far there have been no more terrorist acts. The paper does not mention the exact arguments Lisovsky used in the talks with the gangsters. Instead, it states that the mayor of Moscow, “who worries a lot about what happened (after all, the explosive that blasted two Moscow apartment blocs might have been purchased with money earned by the Moscow Chechen Diaspora),” made a non-trivial decision. Sobesednik reports that “compensation for the damage caused to Moscow by Chechen guerrillas will be paid completely by Chechen businessmen operating in the capital. The logic of this decision is simple: now that you have blown the buildings up, it is up to you to restore them. A beautiful theory, but not unquestionable. On the other hand, that is the essence of Yury Luzhkov.”

It is unlikely that even the most malicious attacks against Luzhkov could cause greater damage to his reputation than this reservedly-praising narration about Luzhkov’s skill in squeezing funds to restore the damage to the capital from Moscow Chechens controlled by him who had also managed (not without help from the Luzhkov administration) to earn money to carry out of the terrorist act. (And how is the mayor of Moscow going to refund the casualties?)

One thing is obvious: the current electoral campaign is a game without any rules, and it is entering its decisive phase. Thus, in the near future we are sure to read many more strange things in the press.