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Press Review: 'Now the real fight begins'

  • Don Hill

Prague, June 17 (RFE/RL) - "Now the real fight begins." So says The Wall Street Journal Europe today in the opening line of its analysis of the outcome of Sunday's first round of presidential elections in Russia. Other Western press commentary also concentrates on preliminary results from Moscow and the likely impact and effects of a runoff between incumbent Boris Yeltsin and Communist challenger Gennady Zyuganov.

The Wall Street Journal Europe continues: "The stakes in the runoff are vast.... Focus now shifts to the horse-trading needed to secure victory in the second round, with a preliminary date set forJuly 7. Mr. Yeltsin's top political advisor said Mr. Yeltsin already is planning to meet with General (Aleksandr) Lebed (the nationalist third-place also-ran).... Early exit polls indicated Mr. Yeltsin was most likely to pull out a victory in the second round."

New York Times political columnist William Safire writes today from Moscow: "Boris Yeltsin brought off a shturmoushchina. That's the Russian word for a horse far off the pace that suddenly storms toward the finish line. It also describes a drunken, drugged, stumbling politician who shakes off his lethargy and overwhelms criticism of his sorry record by zestfully demonizing his most dangerous opponent.... Can Lebed, the third man, deliver for Yeltsin in the runoff? As autocrat Yeltsin faces Communist Zyuganov in the runoff next month, we should disabuse ourselves of the notion that this is a race between good and evil. It's between autocratic-corrupt and despotic-repressive. The Communist, aware of the fear of more wrenching change, has already said he would keep over two-thirds of the Yeltsin apparat. Communists tyrannically made their party the government; Yeltsin wrongly makes his government his party."

The London Guardian carries this analysis today from David Hearst and James Meek in Moscow: "President Boris Yeltsin, battling to stay in power, yesterday was set to turn Russia on an overtly nationalist course as a new ally emerged from the first round of presidential elections in Alexander Lebed, the charismatic retired general.... While neither the president nor Mr. Zyuganov can now win outright in the first round, Mr. Yeltsin could triumph in the second round by inviting Mr. Lebed into a new cabinet.... Mr. Yeltsin's team also will be thinking about recruiting the liberal economist Grigory Yavlinsky, in fourth place."

In the Los Angeles Times today, Richard Boudreaux writes that the "election result shows Communist strategy backfired." Boudreaux says: " Just six months ago..., Gennady A. Zyuganov, the stodgy Communist apparatchik who fused his 'reds' with the ultranationalist 'browns,' was riding what looked like an unstoppable wave to sweep President Boris N. Yeltsin from office. But in Sunday's presidential election, the red-brown tide ebbed -- dramatically and perhaps irreversibly... .In days to come, the Communists are certain to denounce the way Yeltsin dominated the media and used his incumbency to maximum advantage, bleeding the treasury in an attempt to buy off every constituency he met. But equally damaging to Zyuganov in this high-stakes battle for Russia's future, according to political analysts and exit polling data, was a disastrous campaign strategy that mixed up the colors of his coalition. Simply put, he ran too hard as a nationalist. "

David Hoffman writes today in The Washington Post: Russian voters, passing divided judgment on their turbulent years of free-market democracy, narrowed their choice for president to Boris Yeltsin and his Communist challenger, Gennady Zyuganov, in a peaceful and orderly election yesterday."

The London Daily Telegraph carries this analysis today by Alan Philps in Moscow: "Mr. Yeltsin is expected to start talks today with General Aleksander Lebed.... He hopes to recruit Russia's toughest general to his reelection campaign... in the second round.... The general appears to have taken votes from the Communists as well as from the ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky. With a growling bass voice and rorken nose, he campaigned on a strict law and order platform, promising swift retribution to criminals and corrupt officials.... Political analysts believe Mr. Yeltsin will offer him a senior post in government, perhaps as minister in charge of police or defense, to gain his support in the second round."

Sophia Kishkovsky writes today in the U.S. newspaper Newsday: "Alexander Lebed, a general and native son of (the Rostov-on-Dan) region in the south of Russia, was the surprise leading choice (yesterday) for Russians who said 'No!' to the two leading candidates. While support for President Boris N. Yeltsin appeared strong in Moscow (yesterday), in Rostov-on-Don, a city of more than one million near the Black Sea 600 miles from the capital, voters seemed determined to vote against him. Interviews indicated strong support for Lebed, who ran as a law-and-order candidate, and Communist challenger Gennady Zyuganov. And they provided some clues as to why neither Yeltsin nor Zyuganov was able to command a majority.... The 46-year-old Lebed will not be on the runoff ballot next month, but he may be in a position to affect its outcome."

In an analysis today in The Boston Globe, Jon Auerbach writes: "Voting across the country appeared to go off smoothly, although precautions were taken by both reformers and Communists to ensure a fair vote. Russian police officers guarded many of the 94,000 polling places. Zyuganov, who has spoken repeatedly of possible election fraud by Yeltin's supporters, mounted a force of some 200,000 Communists to monitor voting. There were also another 1,100 foreign observers, including a group of American politicians led by Sen. John McCain, Republican of Arizona."

Chrystia Freeland and John Thornhill write today in the British newspaper Financial Times: "President Boris Yeltsin and Mr. Gennady Zyuganov, his Communist rival, looked set for a head-to-head battle for the Russian presidency in a second round of voting next month.... Early indications are that the biggest surprise of the ballot could ber the emergence of Mr. Lebed, a charismatic leader whom many analysts had written off after his party's poor showing in December parliamentary elections, as one of Russia's most important politicians."

In The Washington Post, James Rupert comments today: "In this heartland province (around Yekaterinburg) where President Boris Yeltsin built his career, his oldest constituents seemed as divided about him (yesterday) as Russians have been throughout the electoral campaign. Even in his home town, Yeltsin is no favorite son. Only Friday, Yeltsin had come home to Yekaterinburg, in the Ural Mountains region, to close his campaign. Thousands of cheering supporters at a rock concert had cheered his plea that Russians onite behind him. But (yesterday), Yekaterinburg baked under a hot sun, its streets almost empty of cars.... In Sverdlovsk Province, of which Yekaterinburg is the capital, voter turnout was only slightly higher than in Russia's legislative elections last December."