Timothy J. Colton
Supplementing the club of established democracies with the Russian case fruitfully expands the scope of this book. As Anthony King observes in Chapter 1 , and as specialists on the former Soviet Union tend to agree, 1 there are good reasons to suppose that electoral politics will be more leadership-driven in a democratizing or semi-democratic nation than in older democratic polities possessing entrenched party systems and coherent issue agendas. The Russian Federation's watershed election of June-July 1996, in which its founding president, Boris Yeltsin, staged a stirring comeback to defeat the neo-Communist opposition and earn a second term in office, offers an excellent opportunity to put this proposition to the test. As we shall see, perceptions of the personal characteristics of the presidential candidates did exert substantial effects on the choices of the Russian electorate in 1996. Thorough examination discloses them and the underlying dynamic of transitional politics to be highly complex. The leadership card in post-Communist elections should be neither overlooked nor overstated. Most of all, it should not be oversimplified.
The competitive elections instituted by Mikhail Gorbachev in the late 1980s as a rejuvenating tonic for the Soviet system were destined instead to be a poison pill, ushering in the destabilization and sudden collapse of the old regime. Loosening of the Kremlin leadership's grip on high office allowed its nemesis, Boris Yeltsin, to become a member of the Soviet parliament in 1989