THE UPCOMING FEDERAL ELECTIONS AS REPORTED BY THE CENTRAL MEDIA
At the beginning of last week the number of electoral associations registered with the Central Election Commission totaled 11. According to Vremya MN, Fatherland-All Russia, the CPRF, Yabloko, Our Home is Russia (NDR), and the Union of Right Forces, which had already been registered, were joined by the Russian Party for the Protection of Women, the Congress of Russian Communities and Yury Boldyrev’s Movement (which constitute one movement – translator’s note), the Conservative Movement of Russia headed by Lev Ubozhko, the Party of Peace and Concord headed by Sazhi Umalatova, Sergei Baburin’s Russian National Union, and Alexei Podberyozkin’s Spiritual Heritage. The Central Election Commission continues to inspect the movements’ electoral lists. The Spiritual Value movement had the greatest number of members expelled – 25 of its members were taken off the movement’s electoral list. The Party of Peace and Concord lost eight candidates, the Russian National Union 19 candidates, and the Conservative Movement of Russia 10 candidates.
On the other hand, the paper assumes that the zeal of the Central Election Commission may expire in the near future: registration is to be completed by November 4, and there are still 19 more movements whose applications for registration have to be considered. Nevertheless, Chief of the Central Election Commission Alexander Veshnyakov has already promised that inspections of the movements that have already been registered will last until December 19, the date of the parliamentary election. The Commission will calculate the funds of electoral foundations and their expenses for electoral propaganda.
The resolute and sometimes arbitrary (according to Kommersant-vlast’) actions of the Central Election Commission have already caused a wave of criticism in the press. The famous political analyst Andranik Migranyan, for instance, told “Trud” that the new electoral law has allowed the Central Election Commission to become “a disproportionately important institution” in the Russian political system, an institution capable of putting a barrier in the way of any candidate for Parliament. At the same time, however, the Commission can overlook a candidate’s mistakes if it wants to.
Indeed, the paper notes, “What is a good person to do if he accidentally forgets to mention, say, $13,000 on his income declaration?” Of course, this person’s only hope is that the Central Election Committee will manifest indulgence and recognize this violation as insufficient grounds for expulsion. This is exactly what happened to Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky. Vladimir Zhirinovsky, on the contrary, was much less lucky. The Central Election Commission’s refusal to register the LDPR became a real sensation. The journal Novoye Vremya remarked in this connection that, having gone through this shock, Zhirinovsky “showed the world his new image, the image of a law-abiding and law-fearing citizen.” All dubious personalities were taken off his electoral list. On the other hand, Zhirinovsky himself explained in an interview to Parlamentskaya Gazeta that the presence of Bykov, Mikhailov, and Averin on the LDPR party lists was a fully deliberate move dictated not at all by self-interest but by care for this country’s needs: “The greater part of our economy is the shadow economy, the majority of talented Russian businesspeople are currently living and working abroad, and, as a result, Russia cannot get out of its deadlock. We must either put those businesspeople in prison or pardon them. We actually should start all over again – let everyone begin working as he wishes starting January 1, 2000, but they all must pay taxes.”
Despite his setback, within only two days Zhirinovsky created a new bloc together with two parties known practically to nobody – Spiritual Renaissance of Russia headed by Lubov Zhirinovskaya and the Russian Union of Free Youth. Novoye Vremya states that the LDPR leader “is currently shocked and bewildered. The ranks of his loyal followers are expanding drastically… It is a sin to reject this type of Zhirinovsky.”
Well, he does not appear to be rejected, either. Deputy Nikolai Travkin told Profil that the scandal surrounding the LDPR is most likely just another PR stunt: “The Kremlin cannot do without Zhirinovsky, for the LDPR is the party which is most loyal to the Kremlin.” Indeed, the LDPR Duma faction is reputed for having supported all draft budgets and voted against the impeachment of the president and vote of no confidence in the Russian government. Travkin is of the opinion that Zhirinovsky fully realized that the Central Election Commission would never confirm the LDPR party list in the form in which it was submitted. “On the other hand, the refusal to register the LDPR will remain among the top news stories for several more weeks.”
An anonymous source in the Presidential Administration told Profil that, in reality, from the very beginning the Central Election Commission’s refusal to register the LDPR had threatened Zhirinovsky with no serious consequences: “The major problem to be considered immediately after the parliamentary election will be the question of confidence in the government. In this connection it is extremely important for the government to have a stable majority in the Duma of the new convocation, a majority which would prevent deputies from voting no confidence in the White House during the very first parliamentary session. And here Zhirinovsky’s votes may well come in handy as extra support for the government.”
On the other hand, during the course of the current electoral campaign, the more so at the beginning of the “phase of epidemic propaganda” which, according to the calculations of Kommersant-daily, will start on November 7, practically any moves by politicians, the powers that be, or the Central Election Commission will be perceived as just another PR stunt. This brings up the question of the possible consequences of such all-embracing PR. Director of the Institute for the Strategy of Development and National Security Igor Oleinik remarks in “Novaya Gazeta” that the fairly tough actions of the Central Election Commission, along with electoral information wars, will inevitably discredit the majority of Russian politicians. Experience demonstrates that in such situations voters usually decide that they have absolutely nobody for whom to vote since all candidates are blemished, and simply do not show up at polling stations at all. In that case, “If it is a tedious election, the active part of the electorate will consist mainly of aged people and supporters of the CPRF. As a result, the Communists may well get a chance to not only increase their representation in the Duma but also obtain an absolute majority in Parliament.”
Sergei Mndoyants, Deputy Chief of the Electoral Staff of Fatherland-All Russia, likewise told Moskovskie Novosti weekly that the information warfare between the Kremlin and Mayor of Moscow Yury Luzhkov is creating “hothouse conditions for the CPRF”: “The information war will end in the destruction of a fairly moderate and constructive political bloc, and this will give the Communists a good chance to win the parliamentary election.” Mndoyants is of the opinion that the reason for the savageness of the Kremlin is the fact that Yeltsin’s inner circle, “unlike us” Fatherland-All Russia – translator’s note, is conducting not the parliamentary campaign but the presidential one. Mndoyants is certain that the Kremlin is trying to repeat the 1996 opposition, i.e. the Communists against a representative of the reform forces. “The inner circle does not realize that if Zyuganov enters the second round of the presidential election as the sparring partner of the Kremlin’s nominee, this time the latter will not necessarily win.”
Vremya MN, on the contrary, assumes that the “hothouse conditions” mentioned by Mndoyants may play a dirty trick on the Communists. Of course Zyuganov and his compatriots can currently acquire access to TV channels much more easily than in previous years, which naturally expands the CPRF’s propaganda capabilities. However, the Communists are constantly being accused of agreeing to compromise with the powers that be as it is, and the current “gentle treatment of the CPRF by the Kremlin makes the image of the Communist Party yet more respectable,” which repels a certain part of the electorate from the Communists and gives left-wing radicals cause for criticism.
The media is of the opinion that the well-known letter to the president by the leaders of Fatherland-All Russia is an example of another PR stunt. The letter emphasizes that “the parliamentary campaign is being openly disrupted by the Presidential Administration…A narrow circle of people are abusing their positions and putting unprecedented pressure on the electoral process.” (A quotation from Segodnya.) The paper is of the opinion that the president “was actually informed that his administration has totally isolated him from this country.” According to the paper, the main question Yeltsin is requested to answer is who is currently governing Russia. And if the letter signed by Primakov, Luzhkov, and Yakovlev remains ignored, this will mean “the complete correctness of the assumption made by the letter’s authors: namely, that it is not Yeltsin who is ruling this country.”
The press controlled by the opponents of Fatherland-All Russia appraised the letter from the movement’s leaders in an absolutely different manner. Vremya MN, for instance, reminded its readers that exactly one week prior to the publication of the letter in question Primakov refused to avail himself of the opportunity to meet with the president tete-a-tete and inform Yeltsin about his own opinion of the performance of the Presidential Administration. Apart from that, the addressee was simply not in Moscow when the letter was mailed: Yeltsin had left for Sochi to spend his leave of absence there, and, according to Kommersant-daily, Luzhkov’s current team “abounds in Kremlin veterans who are fully aware of the fact that during the leaves of absence of the head of state Yeltsin’s inner circle does everything possible so as not to disturb him with such information.” Therefore, the paper concludes, the letter was not intended to produce any reaction by the president from the very beginning: “We must assume that Fatherland-All Russia has commenced its own electoral campaign” with this move and that the bloc’s leaders have decided to demonstrate that “they are still together and unified.”
Even Moskovsky Komsomolets, a paper that is usually totally loyal to the mayor of Moscow, spoke disapprovingly of this attempt to open the president’s eyes to the craftiness of his administration after that very administration managed to withstand the information onslaught by the leaders of Fatherland-All Russia and even go on the offensive: “The situation is rather funny. At first the leaders of Fatherland-All Russia themselves were forcing Yeltsin into isolation, and now they are suggesting that he dismiss the people who helped him survive the information attack…If we assume that this is a well-considered PR stunt, then we cannot fail to note that it apparently should have been conducted in an absolutely different way.”
On the other hand, although Moskovsky Komsomolets admits “the clumsiness of this PR stunt” of the leaders of Fatherland-All Russia, it simultaneously believes that the essence of the aforementioned letter is undoubtedly correct: “Indeed, who can doubt that the Presidential Administration is openly intervening in the parliamentary campaign?…Who can doubt that the ‘management of this country has been almost entirely handed out to the Presidential Administration and a group of people close to it’? Who can doubt that, ‘owing to the efforts of this group’ the state is turning into ‘a hostage to the interests of that group’?” However, the paper is correct to note that all those questions are rhetorical.
Vedomosti, in turn, connects the said letter with the attack which the president’s inner circle has recently been carrying out against St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev, who is apparently the most vulnerable member of the anti-Kremlin opposition. The paper is of the opinion that Fatherland-All Russia is doing its best to demonstrate that “a serious danger” is threatening Yakovlev. This behavior is well-grounded, too – Vedomosti quotes Director of the Institute for Political Research Sergei Markov, who is convinced that “the Kremlin is carrying out a horrible attack against Yakovlev.” That is the reason why the leaders of the bloc have decided to demand that the Constitutional Court abolish the provision of the electoral law in accordance with which a political movement must be barred from the electoral race if one of the top three members on its electoral list or over 25% of its total number of candidates are taken off the list. Oleg Morozov, one of the leaders of Fatherland-All Russia, stated that this article of the law violates the electoral rights of citizens. Meanwhile, the paper is of the opinion that the appeal to the Constitutional Court is unlikely to avert the danger currently threatening Fatherland-All Russia, for according to law the Constitutional Court may consider an appeal within six months after it is submitted. In other words, the problem is unlikely to be solved by the election.
Meanwhile, according to Izvestia, Viktor Sheinis, one of the authors of the electoral law, agrees that the law is imperfect: “We got overly excited by the desire to avert the appearance of outsiders on electoral lists…However, this desire, which was good in and of itself, resulted in the usual situation – we wanted to improve things, but wound up making no progress.” The paper also reminds its readers that the Constitutional Court has already refused to revise the norms of electoral legislation during an electoral campaign once, “considering it to be impossible to change the rules of the game during the game.”
Primakov’s 70th birthday was cause for a series of articles about him, and all those articles demonstrated different attitudes toward him. For instance, Parlamentskaya Gazeta maintains that by refusing to meet with the head of state the leader of Fatherland-All Russia “let the entire country know that the thick Kremlin walls and Yeltsin, who sits behind them, do not arouse sacred fear in him.” Furthermore, the paper believes that from now on Primakov “is a politician equal to Yeltsin.” Parlamentskaya Gazeta even compares Primakov to Franklin Roosevelt, who won the 1932 presidential election in the US and managed to bring the country out of the Great Depression.
Valery Vyzhutovich writes in Izvestia about the “charming uniqueness” of Primakov’s program, in which every paragraph is concluded with a “but”. “Order, but not repression. Stability, but not stagnation.” Vyzhutovich stresses that Primakov did not make up this principle by himself: “He just skillfully picked up on the idea that had taken hold of the masses, who were shocked by the new way of life; the idea is to take the best part of the Soviet past and discard the rest.”
Profil appraises Russia’s prospects if Primakov’s program is carried out in a much less excited way. The journal is of the opinion that the widespread comparison of Primakov to Den Siaoping, a reformer and dissident who “suffered for his people,” does not hold water. Quite the contrary, Primakov is “Siaoping’s antipode,” since all his statements about the “reformation of the reforms” conceal not movement away from Communism to a developed market economy, as was the case in China, but just the opposite -movement in the other direction. The journal believes that Primakov the Statesman can be compared not to Siaoping but “rather to the South Korean dictators who created a system of state corporate capitalism within three decades.” On the other hand, the journal states, if Primakov comes to power he is likely to “reign, absorbed in thoughts about eternal things, and only be distracted from his meditation to deal with really global-scale geopolitical issues,” whereas this country will be governed by “young, cynical, and unprincipled pragmatists and intelligence officers obsessed by conspiracy theories.” At any rate, the journal specifies, this was the case during Primakov’s tenure as prime minister.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta was more diplomatic this time. According to the paper, in modern society, which has grown tired of the reforms and longs for “a bit of stagnation,” Primakov has a real chance to play a stabilizing role, for he is perceived by the people as “a certain connecting link with the past, with the Soviet Union as a great state.” Therefore, people are hoping that he will manage to return at least some part of the former grandeur of this country or at least change the widespread international opinion of Russia as a criminal state. There are also other hopes connected with Primakov – for instance, the peaceful conclusion of Yeltsin’s period of Russian history, overcoming the split in society by integrating the left-wing opposition “into the structure of the state machine,” etc. However, the paper notes, so far there is no certainty about whether or not Primakov “will manage to go as far as the main Kremlin office.” In order for this to finally happen Nezavisimaya Gazeta recommends that Primakov stop being “the life raft for the sinking boat.” Fatherland-All Russia – translator’s note
The paper believes that Fatherland-All Russia, the bloc that used to be the favorite in the electoral race, has recently been noticeably yielding its position owing to the fact that its leaders, “first of all Yury Luzhkov,” have proven to be obviously unprepared for the pressure the bloc has been subjected to in the past several weeks. Nezavisimaya Gazeta is of the opinion that the bloc’s fate will be decided within one month to come: the possibility cannot be ruled out that it will be destroyed “as a result of the electoral opposition, which is currently acquiring a more and more violent character.” And since society perceives Primakov as an absolutely independent politician, Nezavisimaya Gazeta maintains that the would-be liquidation of Fatherland-All Russia as an independent electoral association would hardly be a great loss for him. On the contrary, if the bloc disintegrates, Primakov, who currently cannot leave his compatriots and has actually become “a hostage to his personal and political decency,” “will be able to squeeze this situation for the maximum political dividends and simultaneously get out of his current awkward position, in which he is beginning to settle accounts with Fatherland-All Russia in general, without losing face.” Of course, this will be possible only if the bloc ceases to exist “owing to actions of the Presidential Administration, and not because of confusion within the bloc itself.”
According to reports of the Agency for Regional Political Monitoring (ARPM), last week the rating of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (24%) surpassed Primakov’s rating (20%) for the first time. Expert specifies that the results obtained by other sociological services may differ from those in ARPM’s report, but nobody argues that the prime minister’s rating “has taken a leap unprecedented in the entire history of post-Soviet Russia.” From the journal’s point of view, this fact serves as more evidence of the sagacity of “old Yeltsin,” who was laughed at only two months ago: “So far, the ‘successor’ is justifying the correctness of the president’s choice.” Expert believes that the growth of Putin’s rating serves is evidence that “the Russian electorate is awaiting new political forces and personalities” and that the certainty that people have grown tired and are ready to have a rest under “Primakov, a sluggish and inactive president” is ungrounded. On the other hand, to become a real “successor” it will not be enough for Putin just to wage the Chechen war (in fact, this war is the main reason for the growth in the prime minister’s rating). The journal is of the opinion that radical decisions in the economic sphere are needed, “From reduction of taxes to the announcement of an amnesty for capital exported from Russia.” We must say that this suggestion is fairly distinctly oriented toward certain interests. “If Putin does this he will be considered the right person to become Yeltsin’s successor,” the journal concludes, “And if he fails to do it, well, then the Kremlin will find another candidate.”
In the opinion of Vek weekly, the opposition beginning to show between Primakov, who is leaning towards a strategic alliance with the left-wing forces, and Putin, who is staking his hopes on forces which are associated with “conservative and anti-Western moods – the Armed Forces, the security services, etc.” is dangerous for this country. Political technologists believe that while one politician is drifting towards the left wing of the political spectrum, the other is playing the role of a supporter of the right wing. “This situation will only aggravate mutual distrust and hostility. In addition, Russia has few financial, administrative, and political resources left to maintain stability compared to 1996.” Unlike many other papers, Vek believes that the upcoming presidential election may be a repetition of the 1996 one: “However, we assume that this time a protegee of the left-wing forces, even if he is extremely popular, will be opposed not by a democrat but by a representative of an absolutely different generation of Russian politicians.”
The journal Novoe Vremya offers an even more distinct opinion of this topic, although it finds more similarities than differences between the two candidates for president: “It is often the case in a state with a disintegrated economy, a weak army, and a stagnating power system that the secret services become the only force capable of putting up at least some opposition to the universal chaos…When shuffling the thin pack of candidates for the Kremlin throne, the powers that be and elite rest their gaze on the contemporary ‘collective Andropov’ – Putin and Primakov.” Novoye Vremya believes that the difference in age between the two candidates only emphasizes the similarity between them: “Primakov is older and more artful, Putin is more dynamic and modern,” but both are characterized by “exclusive possession of information, competence, self-control, cold hands, and hot hearts…” Apparently, the paper concludes, “On the way to democracy the empire must live through an inevitable stage of universal corruption and gangsterism.” After that, people will appear who will put an end to this arbitrariness using appropriate methods. “Primakov and Putin are our intermediate finish in the marathon towards democracy. Primakov and Putin are all that we deserve.”