Russia vote sends shiver through Yeltsin's reforms

December 14, 1993|By Will Englund | Will Englund,Moscow Bureau

MOSCOW -- The chilling results of Russia's election continued to mount yesterday.

Vladimir V. Zhirinovsky -- an exuberantly unapologetic Russia-firster -- had tapped a deep vein of resentment and was on top of the Russian political world. From the Baltic to the Sea of Japan and beyond, millions who had never taken him seriously were waking up to the reality of disturbing Russian nationalism.

Their disquiet seemed at times to be bordering on panicky despair.

Mr. Zhirinovsky incongruously named Liberal Democratic Party had emerged yesterday as the strongest contender in elections to Russia's new state Duma, or lower house of parliament.

According to still incomplete returns last night, his party had taken 24.5 percent of the vote. The pro-Yeltsin, reformist Russia's Choice bloc was a distant second with 14.5 percent. The Communist Party of Russia was third with 11.3 percent, followed by its ally, the Agrarian Party, which received 8.8 percent.

Two other reform groups together got about 13 percent.

Complete returns are not expected until today.

Reformers branded Mr. Zhirinovsky yesterday as an incipient Adolph Hitler, who was capitalizing on the same sort of conditions here as existed in Germany in the 1920s.

They turned on each other as well, berating themselves for failing to forge a united front against him in the election campaign.

At the same time, representatives of the main pro-reform groupings were moving toward creating a coalition within the parliament to block what Yegor T. Gaidar, of the Russia's Choice TC Party, called "the serious threat posed by radical nationalist forces."

In fact, though, it is not certain at this point that they would have the numbers to do so -- even if they can bury their differences.

Anatoly Sobchak, the mayor of St. Petersburg, whose own party fared poorly in the voting, said he was taken aback by the "credulity and shortsightedness" of voters.

Russia's neighbors, too, were jolted by the support given a man who wants to restore the old imperial czarist boundaries.

"The world is facing the global threat of Russian imperialism," Bogdan Goryn, deputy chairman of the Ukrainian Parliament's Foreign Relations Committee, told the Interfax news agency yesterday.

The three Baltic nations agreed to a summit meeting tomorrow to discuss how to react to what they perceive as a very real threat, given Mr. Zhirinovsky promise to reunite all the parts of the former Soviet Union.

In Moscow, a grim Irma Norkina said, "It's terrible. It's simply terrible."

Mrs. Norkina, a 70-year-old retired teacher of German, whose father was taken away when she was 12 and later died in Stalin's camps, said, "I hate both fascism and communism. I don't want (( to live again under either.

"I felt so bad this morning, I can't describe it. I don't understand it. Does it mean people fail to understand what communism is, what fascism is?"

Premature speculation

And yet, some were asking whether there wasn't something a little premature in all this melodramatic anguish. Foreign Minister Andrei V. Kozyrev pointed out that the election results are still significantly incomplete.

The parties have been ranked by the number of votes received in a contest that will assign parliamentary seats by proportional representation. Yet only half the 450 seats in the Duma are to be filled this way.

The other 225 seats in the Duma will be filled by candidates elected locally. The federal council -- the parliament's upper house -- also is to be filled by local elections. But the results of the local elections to the Duma and the council were unknown at this point.

It is obvious that Mr. Zhirinovsky and his party will be a major force within the Duma -- but just how major may not be evident until the lower house starts meeting next month.

For example, Gennady Zyuganov, the Communist Party leader, yesterday dismissed the prospect of allying with the nationalists.

"We have no common ground with those who seek Russia's expansion to the boundaries of the former Soviet Union," he told RIA news agency. "We are realists in our policies."

The new parliament, moreover, does not have a great deal of power under the new constitution approved by voters Sunday.

One political analyst, Dmitri Likhachev, told the Itar-Tass news agency in St. Petersburg that, as dangerous as Mr. Zhirinovsky nationalism is, it would have been much worse if he had not won entry into the Duma.

"There, he will undoubtedly be revealed as a bankrupt character," Mr. Likhachev said.

Mr. Zhirinovsky, 47, says he wants to be president someday, and his strong showing Sunday led some opponents to fear that he might prevail in presidential elections that once were scheduled for next June.

But at the Kremlin yesterday an aide to President Boris N. Yeltsin repeated that those early elections had been scrapped.

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