Incumbent finds ways to be highly visible Rules ban campaigning on day before election

June 16, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

MOSCOW -- On the day before the Russian presidential election, President Boris N. Yeltsin wrestled loose yesterday of the rule that bans all campaigning on election eve.

Shifting to coded messages, Yeltsin held an awards ceremony in the Kremlin that featured famous anti-Soviet artists, including the movie director Mikhail Mikhalkov, whose "Burnt by the Sun" is about Stalin's terror, and the sculptor Ernst Neizvestny, whose memorial to the millions who died in the gulag was unveiled this week in the city of Magadan.

Yeltsin, who has made the specter of Stalinism a centerpiece of his campaign against Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, left little doubt about his message.

"The repression of the former regime could not break the intelligentsia," he said at the ceremony. "On the contrary, it was a decisive influence on the creation in Russia of a democratic society."

Yeltsin also met yesterday with Patriarch Aleksei II, leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, who has made his opposition to a Communist victory clear.

At least one of Yeltsin's prayers was answered. Gray skies and chill, damp weather brought a touch of gloom to Moscow and left the president's aides giddy with glee.

"There is a much better chance that Yeltsin supporters will not go to their dachas in weather like this," said Igor Mintusov, director of Niccolo M., a political consulting company working for Yeltsin. Moscow is one of the president's strongholds, but his campaign aides fear that sunny weather could dampen turnout among a significant number here.

There are 11 time zones in Russia, and voters in furthermost region of Chukotka, in the Far East, began voting nine hours before voters in Moscow.

Newspapers, prohibited from electioneering on the eve of the vote, found other ways to inform their readers.

The pro-Communist paper Pravda filled its front page with letters from retirees complaining about the price of food. On the front page of the government newspaper Rossiskaya Gazeta a young man was building a roof in a picture that looked uncannily like the logo of the pro-government party, Our Home is Russia.

The state-owned networks found other ways to boost the president on the air. At midday, ORT, the only network that is broadcast Russia-wide, showed a program by the film director Nikita Mikhalkov, one of Yeltsin's most outspoken celebrity supporters.

Mikhalkov presented a documentary that showed the Berlin wall coming down, a Chinese man facing down tanks before the Tiananmen Square massacre, and Yeltsin defying the Communist coup-plotters in August 1991.

The Communists, who have declared that the Yeltsin administration will commit election fraud, have promised to deploy 200,000 observers throughout the country's 93,000 polling stations and produce their own parallel count. All the parties can send as many observers as they can field and train. There will also be foreign monitors.

As they ambled about the city yesterday, many Moscow residents said they felt obliged to vote and would not be deterred by fears of another subway bomb explosion or civil disturbances, or even good weather.

Voters who said they do not favor Yeltsin complained yesterday about the open pro-Yeltsin boosterism in the news media.

Yevgeny, 37, an engineer who declined to give his last name, said he would vote today either for military hero Alexander Lebed or nationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

"I can't say there was an intense political campaign, because it was all one way -- all pro-Yeltsin, which is not the way a decent country should behave."

He said he would prefer to go to the dacha or see friends today, "But I feel I have to vote."

Pub Date: 6/16/96

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