Russia going to polls today Runoff pits Yeltsin against Communist rival Zyuganov

Winner will be president

Incumbent has edge, but low turnout could result in an upset

July 03, 1996|By Clara Germani | Clara Germani,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

MOSCOW -- Russians choose who will lead them into the 21st century today in a presidential runoff between reformer President Boris N. Yeltsin and Communist Gennady A. Zyuganov.

Public opinion polls suggest that Yeltsin, who won 35 percent of the first-round vote to Zyuganov's 32 percent, holds a lead of up to 20 percentage points over his rival. But all political analysts agree that turnout is the critical factor in the race.

The electoral math suggests that a turnout of 60 percent or higher would assure Yeltsin of a victory. A 50 percent to 60 percent turnout would produce a tossup.

Anything less than 50 percent is considered a possible win for Zyuganov, because supporters of the Communists are believed to be dependable, motivated voters certain to show up at the polls.

The turnout in the first round of voting last month was 70 percent.

"The most important task for the second round is mobilization [of voters]," said Giorgy Satarov, a Yeltsin political aide.

"Any decline in voter activity will be in favor of Communists; any increase will be in our favor."

In the 16 days since the first round of the election, actual campaigning declined to virtually nothing compared with the initial race that filled the Russian springtime with a lively sense of democratic sparring among the nine candidates.

But from his seat in the Kremlin, Yeltsin in the past two weeks managed to orchestrate political drama that stole the show from the Communist Party's dull and unsophisticated campaign.

He immediately signed up the third-place presidential finisher, nationalist Gen. Alexander Lebed, to be in charge of national security. Then he fired Lebed's nemesis, Defense Minister Pavel Grachev, the unpopular architect of the bloody war in the breakaway Republic of Chechnya.

And then Yeltsin fired three other unpopular, hard-line Kremlin aides, leaving Lebed, the tough-talking political neophyte, as de facto second in command of this vast nation.

It has kept heads spinning and rival Zyuganov scrambling to get some attention.

What Yeltsin didn't plan, however, was a return of his ill health.

During the spring, Yeltsin began campaigning with single-digit popularity ratings and as a sickly, failed democratic reformer who was conducting an unpopular war in Chechnya. But Yeltsin's vigor on the campaign trail made the public forget about the fact that he spent more than five months out of commission last year recovering from two heart attacks.

But last week, he suddenly disappeared from public view. His staff has been struggling to persuade people that a minor cold is the reason for his disappearance. But the staff's efforts have piqued speculation about his ability to serve a complete second four-year term and about Lebed's status as a possible successor. Yeltsin appeared in a stilted, taped television speech Monday -- the last day of campaigning -- to urge a high turnout today. A weekday was chosen for the election as a way to attract voters who would go to their summer garden plots if the voting were held on the weekend.

Pub Date: 7/03/96

TTC

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