The bread lady likes Yeltsin 'No lines for bread, that's why,' she says in forecasting his win

June 17, 1996|By Clara Germani | Clara Germani,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

MOSCOW -- Street-corner bread-seller Tatyana Chaikhaina voted for Boris N. Yeltsin yesterday. And so, it seemed, did all her customers.

While this nation was choosing among 10 candidates for president, in the Preobrazhinsky suburb, where as a child Peter the Great once played war games with real troops, it was a landslide in favor of the incumbent president.

"I know because I'm doing my own polling," said the 45-year-old factory worker-turned-merchant, adjusting stray peroxide strands in a compact mirror between customers.

"Who did you vote for?" she asked one buyer after another, smiling and holding her sour-smelling Russian brown-bread hostage for an answer.

More than a dozen Muscovites in a row -- old, young, well-dressed and not so well dressed -- all said they had voted for Yeltsin. Of course, a few others found their way into the mix later.

Why a Yeltsin landslide?

"Well look," she said, gesturing with a foot-long bread knife at her array of bread and the usual everyday street scene in front of her. "There are no more lines for bread, that's why. You don't see people in line getting faint from standing and falling over in the street anymore."

As irreverent as it was unscientific, Chaikhaina's poll didn't jibe with more professional surveys. CNN's exit polling was showing a much tighter race -- Russians were casting their 8 1/2 -by-11-inch ballots mostly in favor of the expected front-runners Yeltsin and Communist Gennadi A. Zyuganov.

But, still, Chaikhaina could claim a hefty sample -- as many as 500 people from all walks of life passed by yesterday on their way from the polls to church and to their summer cottages.

But, perhaps what said more than anything about Russia's second democratic presidential election was the atmosphere. It was a normal springtime Sunday. And Russians seem to be taking democratic elections in stride.

People went to church under cottony late spring clouds that alternately opened to glorious sunshine or closed to shower the city.

People went to their dachas -- the summer cottages where Russians raise much of their winter food stocks. (Campaign aides were worried that too many would go to the countryside without even voting.)

People walked their dogs in the park -- some even took their dogs to vote. One voter's basset hound, Gilda, was TC unceremoniously evicted from the Sokholniki high school auditorium polling station. She had been competing for the attention of the mob of foreign television cameras waiting for extreme nationalist presidential candidate Vladimir V. Zhirinovsky to drop his vote in the ballot box.

Voting officials at several precincts remarked throughout the day that the only thing that struck them as unusual on this election day -- one of several since communism fell in 1991 -- was the enormity of the foreign reporting pool. Thousands of foreign news media were on hand to document this first time in 1,000 years of Russian history that an elected leader submitted to a democratic succession process.

The streets were full of first-time voters carrying the single flower bestowed on them as a souvenir by precinct officials. Some carried cheap carnations, but the lucky got native Moscow peonies -- the giant purple orbs in bloom around here now.

"I couldn't have imagined 10 years ago there'd come such a free and open election day as today. I've even seen people publicly arguing over candidates at the bus stop here," said newspaper salesman Radic Gabdrashilov, 30, whose newsstand is across from Chaikhaina's bread kiosk.

Underscoring just how light politics have become, several newspapers in his rack listed the latest political jokes. It's hard to imagine the Soviet Hall of fame -- the glowering Stalins, Khrushchevs and Brezhnevs -- being amused at this one from Arguments and Facts weekly: "Vote for me!" the President jokingly said to the crowd. "We will," they joked back.

Everyone buys bread, and the diversity of voters who found themselves at Chaikhaina's green-and-white striped bread kiosk yesterday was instructive.

Nina Orlova, 85 -- bucking the political analysts' profile of her age group as classic nostalgic Communist voters -- said, "I don't want to go back. I voted for Yeltsin."

Quiet tears began to fall over her hands as she leafed through the rubles in her billfold. Going back to communism would be reliving a horrible nightmare, she said. "My father was a priest. The Communists buried him alive in a hole in the ground."

It was too much for one elderly lady in line behind her who had to wipe her own sympathetic tears from her cheeks.

But communism is exactly what bread-buyer Valeri Diomkin, 50, wants as job security for his 11-year-old daughter, Maria. His career as a government computer programmer went up in smoke with Yeltsin's free market reforms. He now is a construction worker, in his 12th year on a list to receive his own apartment.

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