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
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
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.