Gorbachev for president? Not so laughable: Former Soviet leader's candidacy should focus campaign on issues.

March 06, 1996

MIKHAIL S. GORBACHEV, the Kremlin leader who presided over the dissolution of the Soviet Union, is such an unpopular man in today's Russia that there is a tendency to write off his renewed presidential ambitions as a joke. This is a mistake.

Although Mr. Gorbachev's comeback is hardly likely, the 65-year-old former communist chief could perform a valuable service to his country by conducting a campaign so tightly focused on issues that it would force President Boris N. Yeltsin and Gennady Zyuganov, the neo-communist candidate, to outline their specific policies for Russia's future.

There is a grave danger that Russia is now so polarized that its pivotal June 16 presidential election will be nothing but empty exercise in sloganeering and bullying. Should this happens, the whole campaign could endanger the fragile foundation of democratic diversity and return the country to the political Dark Ages.

What Russia needs at its present stage of development is not a simplistic beauty contest but a presidential campaign that would strengthen its new political system.

That system, which has been created in just the past four years, is so inadequate it does not guarantee the stability of state affairs. For example: While there is no shortage of candidates running in elections, political parties -- with the possible exception of Mr. Zyuganov's reconstituted Russian Communist Party -- hardly exist as organizational or programmatic entities. This has led to a situation in which most voters have little idea what the consequences of their voting might be.

Mr. Gorbachev could work to change that. Not because he would have any better organization or resources but because as a failed politician seeking to relaunch his career he should zero in on how his experiences have changed his outlook and his proposed policies.

Indeed, an issues-based campaign is the only way Mr. Gorbachev can make his mark in this election, where he is unlikely to have the resources or access to the media that Messrs. Yeltsin and Zyuganov have.

Pub Date: 3/06/96

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