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Boris Nemtsov - Russian Reformer Talks About Elections

Moscow, May 27, (RFE/RL) -- Boris Nemtsov, the governor of Russia's Nizhny Novgorod region looks like a Western-style entrepreneur. But he is also a seasoned Russian politician.

Speaking last Saturday with RFE/RL correspondents in Moscow, Nemtsov said that a coalition between the incumbent President Boris Yeltsin and pro-reform economist Grigory Yavlinsky, retired general Aleksandr Lebed and eye-surgeon Svyatoslav Fyodorov is crucially important for maintaining stability in Russia.

Nemtsov further said that such a coalition among is very much needed if Yeltsin were to secure a leading position in the first round of the vote. The second round is scheduled for July 7.

He also said that if Yeltsin fails to get an advantage in the first round, his chances of winning the runoff may considerably decrease because some of Yeltsin initial supporters may loose their faith and "decide not to vote in the runoff."

Nemtsev went on to say that some regional governors may be influenced as well. Most of the regional governors "do not have strong political opinions of their own and feel they are simply appointed bureaucrats," he said, adding, "they want to preserve their own positions."

But the prospects for a reformist coalition look uncertain. Yavlinsky said last week that talks with Yeltsin on forming a pro-reform coalition were unsuccessful. Yavlinsky also said that no more negotiations with Yeltsin would be held until after the first round. Yavlinsky went on to say that he would not join any government under Yeltsin's presidency.

Meanwhile Yeltsin, in an interview published last week in the newspaper "Izvestia" (May 24) said that "a renewal of the cabinet and the formation of a government of national trust is essential, but I will not allow anyone to barter for ministerial portfolios." Nemtsov, 37, was appointed governor of Nizhny Novgorod in 1991. He immediately launched a radical privatization scheme, including land and retail trade privatization, the introduction of municipal bonds and housebuilding projects. And he has been successful. The region, which was once largely focused on heavy and military industries, has become the showpiece of Russia's economic reform. Last December, Nemtsev was elected for a second term in office.

The author of Russia's economic reform, former prime Minister Yegor Gaidar has tried on several occasions to convince Nemtsov to enter the presidential race, arguing that the governor could unify the democratic camp.

Nemtsov refused. He says that he does not have presidential ambitions; "at this time." He says conditions in Russia must change. And the constitution must be altered.

Nemtsov said that currently the Russian voters "will vote not for a president, but for a tsar" because the 1993 Russian Constitution gives sweeping powers to the country's president.

And he said that Russians might take an example of Poland, where the constitution strictly limits presidential powers. "A Communist, " he said, "could be elected there with little difference for the daily life of the Polish people." Speaking about possible consequences of the presidential ballot for the Nizhny Novgorod region, Nemtsev said that it may be impossible to continue reforms if a communist wins the elections.

Nemtsov said that while the communists present a moderate economic platform, there are already signs of, what he calls, "future economic idiotisms."

He gave an example of the Land Code approved last Wednesday by the communist-dominated State Duma. It allows private ownership of land, but does not allow land to be freely bought and sold.

Yeltsin has already announced he will veto the Land Code. But Agrarian leader Mikhail Lapshin, a close ally of communist Gennady Zyuganov, has said recently that in the case of Zyuganov's victory "the land will belong to the peasants, and power will also belong to the peasants...but we absolutely rule out buying and selling land."

Nemtsov, who takes pride in having introduced in his region a land reform privatizing over 120 Soviet-era state farms and giving the owners the right of trading their land, said that document approved by the Duma could "de-facto paralyze agro-privatization in the Nizhny Novgorod region."

Campaigning in the Nizhny Novgorod region two weeks ago, Zyuganov received a rather chilly reception. Nemtsov said after meeting Zyuganov that the communist leader had failed to "answer any concrete questions on his own electoral program."