Accessibility links

Press Review: Russia's Presidential Election Campaign Heats Up

  • Stephanie Baker

Prague, June 6 (RFE/RL) -- Russia is the focus of the western press today. Commentators look at the campaign tactics of candidates ahead of the presidential election, which is just ten days away.

In a news analysis in today's Finanacial Times, Chrystia Freeland follows Communist Party leader and presidential candidate Gennady Zyuganov on the campaign trail in Siberia. She writes: "On the hustings there and in neighboring Novisibirsk, Mr. Zyuganov comes across as a more formidable figure than he can appear from the perspective of Moscow, where the chattering classes have already written him off." Freeland, calling Zyuganov a "inexhuastible campaigner," says: "He addresses invariably crowded halls and answers questions with a patience which his supporters praise as one of his best qualities." Moreover, writes Freeland, "Mr. Zyuganov portrays himself as a committed Russian patriot, a point he emphasizes much more than traditional Communist or even social democratic policies. Whereas Mr. Yeltsin is seeking to define the race as a contest between 'democracy' and 'communism,' Mr. Zyuganov told Novisibirsk voters: "Today, the choice is very simple: either you are for Russia and Russians, or you are against them." Freeland concludes by noting that Zyuganov's supporters are "almost entirely middle-aged." As she puts it: "He has failed to engage the new generation."

In contrast, Alessandra Stanley, writing in today's New York Times, looks at Yeltsin's attempt to engage young voters - the "Generation X" constituency. She says: "'Generation X' cannot camplain that it is being ignored in the Russian presidential election. Young Russian voters are being wooed American-style - to the sound of heavy metal." Stanley points out that Russia's "apolitical" young voters are "far less likely to turn out than their elders." She writes: "Fearful that young Russians are dazed, confused and turned off, the Yeltsin campaign is spending vast amounts of time, money and energy trying to shake Russian youth out of its self-absorption." Stanley notes: "The communist leader does not expect to win votes by being with it. Instead he is mostly exploiting young people's fears of unemployment." She says: "What troubles the Yeltsin campaign the most is that even young voters who fear that a Communist victory will stifle their freedom may not bother to vote."

A news analysis in today's Los Angeles Times by Elizabeth Shogren examines Yeltsin's sophisticated advertising campaign. She begins: "The film clips open with a trip down memory lane. As ordinary Russians - a farmer, babushka, factory worker or schoolteacher - talk about growing up under the Communist system, the camera flips through their old photos, like a family album. They share the stories of how forced collectivization, purges, shortages and other Soviet-era deprivations affected their lives, and of the new struggles and successes their families have experienced under Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin." Shogren notes that Yeltsin has already spent about half of the three million dollars he has raised for his campaign, a factor she says "could give a needed boost in a tough re-election battle." Noting that the "underdog" effect works well in Russia, Shogren writes: "Yeltsin's campaign is well aware that all the positive media and the splashy commercial television campaign could backfire with some voters."

In a news analysis in today's Wall Street Journal Europe, Steve Liesman assesses how the outcome of the elections will affect financial markets. He writes: "Whoever wins Russia's presidential election 10 days from now, the country's financial markets are poised to jump in a big way. For investors with iron stomachs, that provides a chance to play what could be a once-in-a-lifetime market swing." But Leisman warns: "Investors should be prepared for an unpredictible ride on an unruly filly." He continues: "Some Russian brokers think the market could skyrocket as much as 150% if President Yeltsin beats out Communist Party candidate Gennady Zyuganov....For those who believe Mr. Yeltsin will win a second term, the play is simple." He says they should invest in companies that the Communists have threaten to renationalize, and watch their stocks soar if Yeltsin wins.

However, says Liesman, "a bet on a Communist victory is a bit trickier. It requires investors to sift through the Communists' contradictory rhetoric and decide if they are social democrats, as they've portrayed themselves to the West, or hardline Leninists, as they've sold themselves to their constituency. Under all Communist scenarios, a sharp market drop is expected." Nevertheless, Liesman points out: "Some analysts believe a Communist victory could be a good time to buy into Russia. The so-called 'Good Communist' scenario holds that Mr. Zyuganov's party will boost social spending, but won't attempt to renationalize private Russian companies." He concludes: "Still there should be no shortage of sellers at any price the day after a Communist victory."

Peter Slevin, writing for today's Knight-Ridder newspapers, argues that the election is "largely about the pace of economic change and which candidate will protect the millions of losers in Russia's free market free-for-all." As Slevin puts it: "Foreign governments and businesses prefer Yeltsin by a mile. He may be sickly, he may drink too much, he may have used an iron fist in Chechnya, but he promises reform and does business with the West, however unsteadily." But, says Slevin: "If Yeltsin falters or suffers another health crisis, Zyuganov appears poised to triumph, bringing a coterie of hard-line advisers with him into the Kremlin." Still, Slevin notes that some analysts believe Zyuganov might "trade his campaign rhetoric for a more sober policy of accommodation in order to collect billions in foreign help and avoid a military escalation that Russia cannot afford."

A news analysis in yesterday's Newsday by Susan Sachs focuses on the role Russia's new rich is playing in the election campaign. She writes: "Russia's capitalists - maligned as free-spending 'New Russians' by many - are squirming these days, attacked by anti-reform presidential candidates as exploiters of the working class." Sachs comments: "In a society that was taught to regard business as unsavory, the Communist and conservative election-time attacks on rich people as inherently dishonest strikes a chord....That old-fashioned capitalist way of making money was deemed to be criminal." In an attempt to defend their empires, Sachs says "Russia's new millionaires" have turned their attention to getting Yeltsin re-elected by "contributing heavily in time and money" to his campaign. "For many new capitalists," says Sachs, a Zyuganov victory would mean "a return to the centralized command economy in which the rich are assumed to be criminals."