The last stage of the leadup to the election campaign was completed during the past week – the number of candidates for the Duma was finally determined. The Central Election Commission registered 28 blocs and electoral associations. Segodnya subdivided them into three categories: the leaders of the parliamentary race; the participants who have a chance to overcome the 5% barrier; finally, the obvious outsiders. From the paper’s viewpoint, so far only Fatherland-All Russia, the CPRF, and Yabloko can be ascribed to the first category. Our Home is Russia (NDR), the Union of Right Forces, Zhirinovsky’s Bloc, Unity, and also (although with much less surety) Women of Russia and the Movement to Support the Army can be regarded as the movements capable of overcoming the 5% barrier. The rest of the candidates are considered to be outsiders.

Nikolai Kuznetsov, Director of the Independent Institute of Electoral Technologies, explains in Argumenty i Fakty the reasons why the evident outsiders are still frantically struggling for the right to run in the election: “The overwhelming majority of candidates are simply making a profit at the expense of their sponsors.” There are many ways of profiting from the election campaign: for instance, candidates overstate expenditures on advertising, the circulation of leaflets and booklets, etc. The difference between the money granted by sponsors and the actual expenses remain with the clients (i.e. the candidates and their electoral staffs). Everybody is happy: “Those candidates who are bound to lose the race will be glad because they have taken their share of profits even prior to the election itself, the winners will rejoice because they will take their slice of the pie later on, in the Duma. And sponsors have all grounds to be happy because their expenditures will be repaid with interest by those who have won the election (a smart sponsor never supports only one candidate).” According to the paper, to organize a decent campaign for a party or bloc costs between $3 million and $12 million. A candidate running in a single-mandate district needs much less, only between $200,000 and $300,000.

The magazine Kommersant-Vlast maintains that Fatherland-All Russia and Unity are the best-off movements in terms of financing: the former has access to powerful Moscow financial flows, and the latter enjoys the status of the “party of power”. In total, according to the magazine’s calculations, the current campaign will cost approximately as much as the 1995 parliamentary election, i.e. about $700 million.

Vremya MN reports about the completion of the registration of candidates and at the same time expresses a firm conviction that few of the 28 registered blocs will survive to see December 19: the Central Election Commission intends to proceed with its inspections and, most likely, some of the registered blocs will yet be barred from the parliamentary race. However, the paper notes, there are still many more candidates for Parliament than there are campaign ideas. Therefore, the most violent battles are to be expected not between ideological opponents, but rather between parties claiming approximately the same parts of the electorate. “In other words, even during the registration procedures no radical changes took place in the layout of political forces.”

Kommersant-daily states that the main result of the registration stage was the fact that the need to change the electoral law became obvious. For instance, the difference between significant and insignificant violations of the law should obviously be specified more distinctly. In particular, supporters of Vladimir Zhirinovsky insisted on this when their leader was denied registration, and the Central Election Commission was inclined to agree with their viewpoint. Another cause of general discontent became the provision according to which an entire bloc must be barred from the parliamentary race if any of its top three candidates, or 25% of all its candidates, are taken off its electoral lists.

Izvestia reports about the results of the order in which the candidates will be listed on ballot papers. The paper comments: “When dozens of parties are listed on one ballot paper, including those with nearly similar names and political positions, the random order may affect the results of the election.” According to the draw, the list of candidates opens with the Conservative Movement headed by Lev Ubozhko and ends with the Russian Socialist Party headed by Vladimir Bryntsalov.

Kommersant-daily notes in this connection that the most powerful parties have received their numbers “nearly in a row” – from No. 17 to No. 25. The paper quotes Ivan Rybkin, the leader of the Socialist Party (which was barred from the election owing to the fact that 25% of its candidates were taken off the party’s lists): “A mighty pack has been formed there.”

Komsomolskaya Pravda is of the opinion that the outermost positions – the first and last – and also the number which coincides with the date of the election, i.e. No. 19, which is this time occupied by Fatherland-All Russia, can be considered the winning positions. However, the paper warns: “The electorate is literate nowadays and only odd people vote at random.”

This optimistic assertion appears out of tune with the results of an opinion poll conducted by the National Center for the Study of Public Opinion. According to those results, published by Trud, 18% of respondents stated that they will certainly not vote at all, 10% will most likely not vote, and 15% have not yet made a final decision. Thus, the participation of 43% of the electorate is in question. The situation is more than serious, the paper states. If the moods of those people do not change by the day of the election, their absence may affect the results of the election in an extremely negative way. “We may assert with certainty that all those who support the Communists will certainly vote on December 19. They are disciplined people…” Apathy and lack of interest in the results of the election are mainly a distinguishing feature of former adherents of the democratic reforms: “Their expectations have not been justified in many respects – currently they have neither a true well-developed democracy, nor an efficient market economy, nor a strong state.” What is needed to improve this situation is coordinated interaction of the executive and legislative branches of the government and an efficient Duma. “However, if nearly one half of Russians do not show up at polling stations, these hopes might as well be forgotten,” the paper states.

Vek weekly likewise appraises the electorate’s moods on the eve of the election as “just another defeat for democracy”. In the paper’s opinion: “The Kremlin has been ‘grinding’ its own protegees for so long, in its attempts to appear larger and taller against their background, that all politicians have by now been ground down to the lowest possible limit in the nation’s perception.” As a result, we now observe the drop in prestige of both the powers that be and the opposition. We must also take into account the shameless attempts to manipulate voter opinion “on such a scale and, which is more important, in such forms that the totalitarian CPSU regime never dreamed of.”

Vek maintains that “campaign techniques are currently considered the most offensive term by people with self-respect.” We may say that, as a result, “the Kremlin thought better of canceling the parliamentary election. What it did, in fact, is much worse – it rendered this election completely senseless in everything other than the personal gains of deputies who will enter the new Duma without any struggle at all, and actually without our consent, for despairing indifference and consent are two different things.”

Approximately the same opinion is expressed by Itogi weekly. When telling its readers about candidates for the Duma in single-mandate districts, the magazine emphasizes that if major political parties perceive majority districts as only a makeweight for Duma mandates to be won at the expense of the party lists, then “political dwarfs like, for instance, Ubozhko’s Conservative Party of Russia, who will never in their life overcome the 5% barrier, actually regard majority districts as the only opportunity for them to get into the Duma, or at least simply remind the world about their existence.” And since in a single-mandate district candidates find themselves face to face with their electorate, people with strong charisma are necessary. Parties and movements find such people among actors, journalists, athletes, and well-known business leaders. That is exactly why an eminent Moskovsky Komsomolets journalist, Alexander Khinstein, and actors Alexander Pankratiov-Cherny and Natalia Belokhvostikova are running in the election under the aegis of Alexei Podberyozkin’s Spiritual Heritage; actress Ludmila Zaitseva is supported by the Russian Nationwide Union; and Ivan Okhlobystin by the Kedr movement. On the eve of the election, Itogi states, numerous “political corpses” float to the surface – for instance, Martin Shakkum, a candidate for president in the 1996 election (when he received 0.37% of votes). Shakkum is supported by Fatherland-All Russia. The notorious gangster Sergei Mikhailov (a.k.a. Mikhas) intended to represent Ubozhko’s party in a single-mandate district. However, this week media reported that he had been denied registration in Taganrog. Boris Berezovsky and Roman Abramovich also desire to try their luck in single-mandate districts: the former is running in Karachaevo-Cherkessia, where he is praised as the “major conciliator”, and the latter in Chukotka: “which fact can be explained by his desire to get used to the climate beforehand – just in case.”

At any rate, the magazine does not doubt that the candidates are guided “not at all by any hope to change our evil and unfair world and turn Russia into a flourishing democratic state, but by the aspiration for power and money, for legitimized impunity – sorry, parliamentary immunity.”

No less straightforward is the opinion of Obshchaya Gazeta. In an article headlined “Criminals are Aspiring to Get to the Presidium” the paper poses a rhetorical question: what is the difference between tattooed criminals who are currently jostling for power and the “firm economists” and “Harvard boys” who now personify this power? Of course, the paper states, in theory these two categories must differ as to their ideals; “there is such an obsolete word in the Russian language”. But in reality the ideals might as well be forgotten in the current circumstances. The paper believes that the difference between the criminals rushing to power and those who are “already there” is really insufficient – it lies solely in their origin and outward appearance. The latter, of course, are better groomed and more attractive. “This is a class difference, to put it in Leninesque terms. And what they call the struggle against the penetration of criminal elements into power is in fact their class struggle. One class does not want to let representatives of another class get to power.”

The media have offered many guesses and comments in connection with President Yeltsin’s sudden return from vacation and the rumors about the dismissal of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, which is allegedly being planned. According to the established tradition, papers that belong to different groupings were of absolutely different opinions. Nezavisimaya Gazeta, for instance, assumed that Yeltsin’s return is connected with the intensification of “attacks against Putin from pro-Luzhkov media,” for this “gives rise to internal and external instability in this country.”

Segodnya, on the contrary, presumed that the president’s return is connected with the fact that he does not like the record-breaking growth of the prime minister’s popularity rating, which has already reached 29%. Thus, Putin has overtaken not only Zyuganov and Luzhkov, but even Bill Clinton: the paper reminds its readers that at the very beginning of the election campaign the name of the US president was included in an opinion poll – just for the fun of it. To everybody’s astonishment, Clintion received 28% of respondents’ sympathies as “a possible candidate for the post of Russian president” and assumed the top position among the other candidates mentioned in the poll. No wonder that the Kremlin takes Putin’s current rating to be “excessive”, the paper notes. In this situation, as usual, the idea of the possible dismissal of the too-successful prime minister started to be discussed. Komsomolskaya Pravda remarks in this connection that Putin’s rating is growing because “people prefer the person who makes things to the person who explains why it is impossible to make them.” Of course, it is difficult to dismiss the prime minister who is currently at the height of his popularity. However, we must take into consideration the opinion of the West, which is worried about the situation in the North Caucasus. According to Komsomolskaya Pravda, the president’s inner circle may well avail itself of the West’s negative appraisal of the actions of the Russian government, in order to prompt Yeltsin to discontinue the combat operations and simultaneously urgently replace the prime minister. However, the paper warns, the would-be dismissal of Putin, who is currently perceived by the army as the guarantor of a consistent military policy and who “personally promised generals and senior field officers that there will be no retreat until the complete extermination of the Chechen guerrillas,” may lead to an unpredictable reaction from the military. The paper does not rule out the possibility of troop disturbances in that case. “A state of emergency may well be declared. Russia may once again plunge into the abyss of hopelessness and political absurdity.”

Izvestia reminds its readers of Putin’s well-known statement that Russia needs “a new national ideology” that would rest on patriotism. Unfortunately, the paper notes, raising political awareness has never been done in Russia without the image of an enemy. And today the media call the prime minister’s rating “military”. In addition, Russian public opinion’s benevolent attitude to Putin is sharply contrasted to that of the West. (Furthermore: “the harder the West is pushing Putin, the more attractive he is growing in the eyes of Russian voters.”) Izvestia states that so far his support within Russia is helping the prime minister withstand attacks against him, but it is unclear whether he will manage to stand his ground for long in such a complicated situation.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta reports that a plan to dismiss Putin already exists in Moscow. The intrigue is being worked out by supporters of Fatherland-All Russia, but they have decided to act “from the West” and exploit the topic of the “humanitarian disaster”. The paper states: “Strangely enough, the tactical interests of Putin’s Moscow rivals appear to coincide with the strategic interests of Russia’s Western opponents. A series of confidential negotiations has recently been held between representatives of the Moscow City Administration and their Western counterparts. These negotiations resulted in the forming of the anti-Putin alliance.” According to the paper’s sources, during the upcoming Istanbul summit the Western leaders will make President Yeltsin choose between either suspending the Chechen operation or dismissing Putin. According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the West would like to see Putin replaced with Yevgeny Primakov, one of the leaders of Fatherland-All Russia – “Primakov is a more understandable and predictable person in the eyes of Western society – he is not aggressive, he is clear and stable, as opposed to Putin, a former KGB officer, a ‘hawk’.” (On the other hand, Primakov is also a former intelligence officer and has never been a “dove” in the West’s perception, but so far this fact is being overlooked.) It is to discuss this plan with Western politicians that Igor Malashenko, Sertgei Yastrzhembsky, and Sergei Karaganov have recently undertaken a series of journeys abroad. As a result, the paper states, the plan enlisted unconditional support in the West. However, Putin managed to quickly learn the particulars of that plan “for he still has connections in the FSS”. What the prime minister will do now – whether he will try to talk the president out of going to Istanbul in order to go there himself, or try to undertake certain actions in Chechnya to make the negotiations with the Chechen terrorists currently being imposed on him senseless – the paper does not report.