Prague, June 19 (RFE/RL) - President Boris Yeltsin and Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov will soon face a rematch in the second and final round of Russia's presidential election.
But many analysts agree that it is not the candidates' opposing electoral programs which will determine the winner in the final round. Nor is it the candidates themselves.
Rather, who becomes Russia's next president hinges on two main factors. First, whether balloting will take place on a weekend or a weekday. And second, whether retired General Aleksandr Lebed will be able to take his voters over to Yeltsin's camp?
Russia's State Duma is set to debate the question of when to hold the second round at its session on Friday. Electoral law states that balloting must take place within two weeks of the day that official first round results are published. And voting must take place on a day off.
Traditionally, elections have been scheduled on Sundays, which is why June 30 and July 7 had been considered likely dates. But President Yeltsin has asked the Duma to declare Wednesday July 3rd a day off, so that voting can take place in mid-week. That is because Yeltsin knows he will need a high voter turnout to beat Zyuganov - especially from the large urban centers where his support is concentrated.
Russian city dwellers tend to flock to their country dachas on summer weekends. And they are likely to be even less motivated than they were in the first round to cancel weekend plans in order to vote.
Although in the past it was the Communists who had the big dachas, one will not find many rank-and-file Zyuganov supporters among the country home set these days. That is why Zyuganov favors a Sunday voting date. With the Communists dominating the State Duma, heated debate is sure to follow.
The other main issue is retired General Aleksandr Lebed. With his appointment by Yeltsin yesterday as both national security adviser and Security Council secretary, many agree that Lebed has the potential to become the second most powerful man in Russia.
How effective Lebed can be in a head-on attack against the entrenched corruption and cronyism of the nomeklatura remains to be seen. But for now, the big question is: how many of his supporters can Lebed deliver?
The general himself said last month that up to 80 percent of his voters would be inclined to vote for Zyuganov in a second round. Now he says that most could be persuaded to vote for Yeltsin. But Lebed says he is not going to do the persuading. Lebed, in characteristic macho talk, told journalists yesterday he was "no cheerleader."
But someone will have to cheerlead or else Lebed's voters, a portion of whom come from the camp of the Vladimir Zhirinovsky discontents, may simply not vote at all. Or they could vote for "none of the above," which remains an option. So could Zhirinovsky's remaining faithful supporters and so could some of Grigory Yavlinsky's backers.
Most observers agree that Zyuganov reached the limit of his personal support in the first round. The core Communist vote has hovered around 30 percent for months.
But if turnout is low, disenchanted democrats vote "none of the above" or stay away altogether, and the Communists attract some of Lebed's and Zhirinovsky's nationalist supporters, they still could come out on top.
Yeltsin leads for now, but the race has just begun.