"Pashchenko's a funny guy, kind of naive," says Dmitri Chechkin, public relations director for Kraz and a Bykov loyalist. He was meant to be a spoiler -- but last month the election commission in Achinsk struck Bykov off the ballot because, marooned in Hungary, he had been unable to sign his filing documents.
Suddenly Pashchenko was thrust into a front-running position. He favors neither Bykov nor Lebed -- he believes the aluminum companies should be renationalized. He may be the only candidate in history to compare himself to Ivan the Fool -- a legendary dim-witted Russian folk figure who always seems to have things turn out his way in the end.
Lebed's hopes now rest on a candidate named Sergei Generalov, a former fuel and energy minister who is well-connected and the sort of young-reformer-turned-businessman that many people here despise.
Generalov has a well-financed campaign. A victory by him in Achinsk would help cement Lebed's control of the alumina company -- which in turn could mean a reliable source of funds for Lebed's future political campaigns. It would also help Lebed in his pursuit of an even bigger prize -- the giant Kraz plant, 100 miles to the east, just outside the city of Krasnoyarsk.
Candidate in jail
Bykov is now sitting in a Hungarian jail. His supporters have slapped up posters that promise, in florid script, "I shall return." In Achinsk they launched a last-minute campaign to get voters to cast their ballots against all candidates, an option the law allows. If "none of the above" gets more than 50 percent, the election is invalid.
The 11,500 workers at the Achinsk Alumina Combine are in a quandary. The fight isn't over yet. With the election approaching, a bidding war between Bykov and a former director is going on for shares that were distributed to employees when the plant was privatized in 1995. The offering price has already risen from $32 a share to $72. But no one knows what the shares of a legally bankrupt company -- which has never paid a dividend -- are really worth.
"I'm for Generalov; since he lives in Moscow, he'll have more time to deal with our problems there," said Anatoly Svezhinkin, a truck driver. "The only thing I disapprove of is all this fuss over the factory, which I'm sure Lebed started."
"It's an insolent struggle for power," said Yekaterina Vodopyanova, as she stood in line to find out more about selling her shares. "We need clear and strict laws."
"I'll vote against everyone," said Lyudmila Kuznetsova. "I like Bykov, and Lebed's persecuting him."
"Look what he's given to the region, and Lebed's given nothing," agreed Stanislava Filipova.
"No, I'm for Pashchenko because he's direct and truthful," said Albert Bobylev. "I'm in favor of renationalization."
"But if the factory belongs to the state it belongs to nobody," rejoined Kuznetsova. "We want a good master."
"But what are these shares worth?" pleaded Vodopyanova. "We don't understand this capitalism. How much should a share of a big company be worth?"
That's an unanswerable question under Krasnoyarsk-style free enterprise. How much is a Soviet industrial giant worth to Bykov, resolute and charming and under indictment? And how much is it worth to Lebed, the tough-talking governor with his eye on Moscow?
Outside the factory gates, though, there's a distinct change of tone. No one except the Achinsk Alumina workers believes that politics can make a difference. People are fed up, and in a nasty mood about politicians.
On the highway leading in to town, Valentina Veshnyakova runs a cafe that she and her husband have been building step by step over the past three years. She serves grilled pork and pelmeni, the Russian version of ravioli, to hungry truckers and others.
"Well, I'll never vote for the Communists," she allows. "This is my business, and I can do what I want."
Of course, there are always government inspectors coming around with their hands out, and she has to pay both ground rent and rent on the cafe, even though she built it herself. "At least we don't have to worry about thieves," she says, "with the government stealing everything."