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Analysis From Washington -- Campaigning Versus Governing

  • Paul Goble



Prague, June 11 (RFE/RL) -- By ordering the Russian Central Bank last week to transfer 1,000 million dollars to the government to allow him to make good on his campaign promises, Boris Yeltsin has unintentionally highlighted the often dangerous contradictions between campaigning and governing.

Throughout the Russian presidential campaign, Yeltsin and his opponents have made a wide variety of promises. Many in both Russia and the West have been inclined to write these things off as nothing more than rhetoric. But Yeltsin's latest step shows the limits of such interpretations.

Officials at the Russian Central Bank were reportedly appalled because of this attack on the independence of their operations, and numerous Western economists suggested that the move would contribute to new inflationary pressures and might undermine the International Monetary Fund's commitment to provide Russia with more than 10,000 million over the next three years.

But quite obviously, Yeltsin is convinced that his first responsibility is to be reelected, a position many who support reforms in Russia would agree with. And so he has done something that fundamentally violates his earlier commitments as a government leader in order to win points as a politician.

Some Western economists have suggested that Yeltsin's move by itself will have little impact especially if, as his supporters claim, he will return to a more disciplined economic policy in the future. Obviously, Yeltsin could do just that, but equally obviously, he might be tempted to do otherwise.

That is what makes it so difficult to know just how to read his statements and those of his opponents during the current campaign. And that is why some, both in Russia and especially in neighboring countries, have tended to draw the worst possible conclusions from the remarks of one or another candidate.

Countries in the West that have had greater experience with elections perhaps can provide several principles for interpreting what is being said.

First of all, elections inevitably both sharpen the positions of the candidates and tend to bring the candidates closer together. Thus, both Yeltsin and Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov have staked out ever more definite positions even as they have converged on a number of points.

Moreover, few voters in long-established democracies expect that the candidates they vote for will actually deliver on each and every one of their promises. Instead, the voters form a general image of the direction that one or the other candidate suggests he will lead the country.

But the voters do expect the victorious candidate to deliver on the thrust of his policies if not all the specifics. Sometimes an elected official will get in trouble for violating a specific pledge, but more often he will lose support and authority by making a major swing away from the totality of his pledge.

Finally, in established democracies tend to evaluate incumbents running for reelection somewhat differently than they do challengers. That is, the electorate tends to evaluate incumbents on what they have done -- especially in the recent past -- while they judge outsiders almost exclusively by what they promise.

That pattern helps to explain what Yeltsin is doing, but it also suggests some of the difficulties of combining campaigning and governing.
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