Yeltsin wins Russia's first free elections Leningrad voters back name change to St. Petersburg

June 14, 1991|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,Moscow Bureau of The Sun

MOSCOW -- Boris N. Yeltsin triumphed over his Communist opponents to become the first democratically elected national leader in Russian history, leading a sweep by reformist anti-Communists in Wednesday's voting, according to unofficial returns announced yesterday.

Mr. Yeltsin, 60, a one-time Communist Party Politburo member whose rebellion against the system captured the popular mood, won about 60 percent of the vote against five opponents to become president of the Russian Federation. About 70 percent of the 104 million voters in the biggest Soviet republic went to the polls.

Moscow voters chose radical economist Gavriil K. Popov as the capital's first elected mayor. Leningrad chose liberal lawyer Anatoly A. Sobchak as mayor.

And, to cap the counterrevolution at the ballot box, Leningrad's voters rejected Soviet founding father Vladimir I. Lenin by endorsing a return to the city's original name, St. Petersburg.

Historian Yuri N. Afanasyev, a prominent ideologist of radical reform, defeated a Communist Party apparatchik for a seat in the Russian parliament.

All four victors are former Communists who quit the party last year. Mr. Yeltsin's vice presidential running mate, however, Alexander V. Rudskoy, is a pro-reform Communist and Afghanistan war hero, chosen to broaden the ticket's appeal.

The results add up to a powerful blow against the crippled but still mighty Communist Party old guard, who had gone all-out in the last days of the campaign to brand Mr. Yeltsin a crook and to scare voters with free-market horror stories.

"There has occurred a great event in the history of Russia," said Mr. Popov, the rotund, sweatered mayor-elect of Moscow. "Russia has joined the family of civilized nations and begun to elect its leaders by direct vote of the whole population."

Speaking to reporters, Mr. Popov lent his support to calls for a single, united democratic party to oppose the Communist Party. Former Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze, still a Communist, came under formal investigation by his own party this week for proposing such aparty.

Yuri D. Chernichenko, a member of the Soviet parliament, drew on a nursery rhyme to assess the state of the Communist Party: "Humpty-Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty-Dumpty had a great fall."

He said all five of Mr. Yeltsin's opponents represented elements of the old system: Nikolai I. Ryzhkov, former Soviet prime minister and favorite of the party's old guard; Vadim V. Bakatin, former minister of internal affairs and a reform Communist; Albert M. Makashov, a reactionary army general; Aman Tuleyev, a local official with party backing in the Siberian Kuzbas coal region; and Vladimir V. HD, an eccentric Russian nationalist widely believed to have ties to the KGB.

There was no immediate comment from Mr. Yeltsin's sometime rival, sometime ally, Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev. In apparent anticipation of the result, Mr. Gorbachev did not publicly endorse any candidate and told reporters Wednesday that he would work constructively with whoever was elected. Soviet television reported that Mr. Gorbachev had intervened to block anti-Yeltsin TV broadcasts planned by his own hard-line TV chief, Leonid P. Kravchenko.

"After this election, the lineup of political forces has changed very sharply -- of that there can be no doubt," said Arkady N. Murashyov, 34, a physicist, parliamentarian and leader of the Russian democratic movement.

"Having received such huge support, Yeltsin, in a sense, becomes a more powerful figure than Gorbachev, who never has been elected to anything. If the West is for democracy, it should be dealing with democratically elected leaders."

Mr. Popov argued that Mr. Yeltsin's victory was also a victory for Mr. Gorbachev. He said that if Mr. Ryzhkov had won, the conservative parliamentary faction Soyuz (Union) would soon have insisted that he replace Mr. Gorbachev as Soviet president. Thus Russia would have been prevented from asserting its sovereignty, and the Soviet Union would have been preserved by force in its current form, he said.

Since Mr. Gorbachev, Mr. Yeltsin and leaders of eight other republics signed a treaty of sorts April 23, the often-bitter political contest between the two men has diminished.

The Soviet president's recent move away from the hard-liners, on whom he relied during the winter, into an uneasy alliance with Mr. Yeltsin appears likely to be reinforced by the election result.

Among the possibilities is close coordination of a rapid move toward a market economy, including privatization of state enterprises, encouragement of private farming and steps to make the ruble convertible. Such a joint union-Russian program would mean the practical restoration of the vaunted "500-day" radical reform plan championed by Mr. Yeltsin but scuttled by Mr. Gorbachev last fall under heavy pressure from conservatives.

The 54 percent vote to restore Leningrad's historical, pre-revolutionary name of St. Petersburg was not predicted by pre-election polls and was a potent symbol of the popular rejection of the 1917 revolution and its legacy.

The vote is not legally binding and is likely to touch off an emotional battle, since the law does not say which body has the right to order the name change.

Mr. Sobchak, the mayor-elect, told Leningrad television that during a transition period both names would be used. He said he would ask the City Council to appeal to the Russian parliament to order the name change. Chess champion Garry Kasparov has offered $2 million to help pay associated costs.

Mr. Sobchak said he hoped that the name change would inspire work to improve the decaying city and would mean "the restoration of our city as a window on Europe, as a city of a special spiritual culture."

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