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Press Review: Pundits Ponder Possibilities in Russian Election

  • Don Hill

Prague, June 10 (RFE/RL) -- In the final week before Russian elections June 16, Western commentary focuses on politics as practiced in today's Russia.

The New York Times said yesterday in an editorial: "Politics for Boris Yeltsin always seems to be a high-wire act without a safety net.... For months he seemed indifferent to the quotidian business of governing Russia. He failed to organize a strong political party to support his programs and presidential candidacy.... But just when the decline seemed terminal, Yeltsin somehow found the energy and political moxie to fight his way back into the race.... He has given himself at least a chance of winning re-election.... If Yeltsin had spent more time these last years dealing with problems before they escalated into crises, including his own campaign, Russians might be more inclined to re-elect him. As it is, next Sunday's balloting will be another high-wire show."

Von Erich Hoorn writes today in the Austrian daily, Die Presse: "To abandon (Russia's) present reforms would only consolidate the deficits of the country's economy. For Russia needs high growth rates over a long period.... A return to Soviet-style economic policy would bring the danger of repeating the experience of the 1917-1991 experiment -- irregular economic growth, technological underdevelopment, oversized government, repressive wage policy, and isolationism. Clearly, this would bury any hope for modernization of Russia."

The British newspaper Financial Times carries today an analysis by John Thornhill. Thornhill writes: "If (Russians) elect (Gennady Zuganov, the Communist Party presidential candidate) on Sunday, will he become the modern-minded democrat who impressed the World Economic Forum...? Or will be become the embodiment of the party's reactionary will, bent on restoring Soviet power? Part of the answer has emerged in Mr. Zyuganov's 30-page economic program, the subject of much debate.... Written by economists, the program savages the economic effects of the 'monetarist neutron bomb' exploded by President Boris Yeltsin and presents an affirmative Utopian vision for Russia's long-term recovery. Its three-stage action plan extends to 2010 by when the 75-year-old President Zyuganov would be well into his fourth term.... It is hard to find an independent economist with a kind word for (its) remedies."

James Galagher contends in an analysis in today's Chicago Tribune that President Boris Yeltsin's economic approach is not much more promising. He writes: "No matter who wins the June 16 presidential elections, the big loser is likely to be Russia's already crippled economy. President Boris Yeltsin, while pledging to push ahead with Russia's pro-market reforms, has been playing Santa Claus on the campaign trail -- at every spot offering or doling out government largesse. He has committed himself to spending plans that would bankrupt the nation.... Yeltsin has promised a staggering boost in social spending, huge subsidies to inefficient industries and up to a thousand-million dollars in compensation to Russians whose bank savings have been eaten up by inflation."

The following commentary by Angela Stent and Lilia Shevtsova is excerpted from the current issue of the U.S. magazine Foreign Policy (Stent is a Georgetown University professor, Sehvtsova a senior associate with the Carnegie Endowment): "The Russian elections are beginning to resemble Western elections where the major candidates often converge at the center as the election approaches.... The main contenders... each must play two different roles simultaneously. They must convince the Russian people that they are trying to improve the social and political situation, but they must also reassure elites that they will not make major changes to their detriment. This dual task forces both rivals outwardly to maintain their ideological battle, contrasting leftists with anticommunists. Yet at the same time, the two rivals have already moved toward the center in terms of their positions on specific problems, creating the impression that the difference between the ruling group and the left-wing opposition is not so great.... Russia is a pluralist society and will remain one. No Russian leader could reassemble the pieces of the old clock, and time moves in but one direction, even in the new Russia."

In the Financial Times today, Richard Lapper writes: "Foreign investment flows, especially into the (Russian) equity markets, have picked up on the back of expections that President Boris Yeltsin will be returned to office in (the) presidential elections.... In addition, (investors) have been encouraged by improvements to the commerical and legal infrastructure."

Richard Boudreaux said Friday in an analysis in the Los Angeles Times: "In a re-election campaign that reaches for every trick and promise in the book, Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin has managed to steal much of his Communist rival's thunder. Under fire for inequities in his privatization program, Yeltsin suspended it. Condemned as the destroyer of the Soviet Union, he patched together a Slavic union with neighboring Belarus.... But this week Yeltsin tried to cross a line drawn by the strictest guardian of his reform program, the Central Bank and met unexpected public resistance.... What Yeltsin tried to do Wednesday, in violation of law, was force the bank to pump nearly a thousand-million dollars in inflationary rubles into the economy to help meet his campaign promises, which include paying overdue wages to teachers, defense workers and other public employees.' ...This is the first real challenge to the independence of the Central Bank,' declared spokeswoman Natalia Khomenko, who said the bank's directors balked at the president's order."

And in the U.S. newspaper Newsday today, Susan Sachs writes: "Challenged by ten presidential candidates who accuse him of everything from ruining the country to running a warmongering autocracy..., Yeltsin is hustling to show his disenchanted people that he is still their best hope for stability and prosperity.... He appears a different Yeltsin from the dulled, distant and pasty man Russians glimpsed over the past few years, when his sudden disappearances and long convalescences after heart trouble left the country wondering who was in charge."