RUSSIAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS: Relief for Yeltsin Rolls in from the East

By Moscow, Phil Reeves | The Independent (London, England), June 17, 1996 | Go to article overview
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RUSSIAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS: Relief for Yeltsin Rolls in from the East


Moscow, Phil Reeves, The Independent (London, England)


If a week is a long time in politics, what about a few hours? First we saw Boris Yeltsin's campaign team staging a panic-stricken last minute effort to persuade Russians to take part in their first presidential election since the end of the Soviet Union. And then, not three hours later, they were breathing a monumental sigh of relief.

What brought their genuine panic to an end was a flurry of results, first from the Far East and then from Siberia and much of the rest of the huge nation that Mr Yeltsin so much yearns to govern for a second term.

One after another, they rolled in from the eastern seaboard the northern tundra, the Red Belt, the Urals. First, Primorsky, Sakhalin, Magadan, Khabarovsk - not particularly pro-government territory - put Mr Yeltsin ahead. And then, more predictably, Sverdlovsk, Chelyabinsk, St Petersburg, and elsewhere.

In Moscow, initial results gave the President 60 per cent of the vote, a result only bettered by the city's pro-Yeltsin mayor, Yuri Luzhkov, who was also running for re-election. Unofficial reports said Mr Luzhkov, whose running-mate was badly injured in a bomb attack earlier this month, had a 90 per cent lead in the city, which has benefited more than the rest of Russia from reforms.

However, the picture that was emerging last night, with 40 per cent of the votes counted, was one of a narrow two- to three-point lead for the President over the Communist Gennady Zyuganov. Although it is not a massive triumph, it will be enough to set him up well for a run-off in July. General Alexander Lebed was running a strong third with nearly 15 per cent, followed by the liberal economist, Grigory Yavlinsky, (8 per cent), and Vladimir Zhirinovsky (6.8 per cent).

Earlier in a nerve-wracking day, worried that Yeltsin's predicted support had failed to materialise, the President's advisers seemed to be deeply rattled. They drafted in several leading Russian artists who issued an extraordinary appeal to the electorate to go to the polling booths, only two hours before they closed in Moscow.

Their move came after initial figures showed that the turn-out was lower than the 75 per cent that Mr Yeltsin's team had hoped for, possibly because of the Russia-Germany football match. The development was seen as ominous for the President, whose record is marred by five difficult years of reform and a catastrophic war in Chechnya. In the event, the panic proved false; the turn-out was forecast at about 70 per cent.

Such was the concern within the Yeltsin camp that the Prime Minister, Viktor Chernomyrdin, a loyal supporter of the President, also publicly implored Russians to go to the polling booths "so as not to trade your future for an extra hour in front of television set or at your dachas {country homes} and vegetable plots."

His words were echoed by Sergei Solovyov, a film director, who made a blatant appeal to the public to vote for the president. He warned Russia's youth that they might "wake up in a different country" if they did not vote.

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