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Press Review: Russia Votes

Prague, July 3 (RFE/RL) -- Rusia votes today, and the Western press focuses its scrutiny on the event.

In today's Chicago Tribune, James P. Gallagher writes: "For the first time in their torn and tormented history, millions of ordinary Russians will decide the direction of their nation (today), choosing as their next president either a frail incumbent wanly promising a better future or a robust Communist challenger brusquely silverplating a bitter past. Old will square off against young, the impoverished will try to cancel out the votes of the well-to-do, Russian mafia hoods will jostle struggling businesspeople and uncounted skeptics and cynics will merely choose to stay home as the nation vents years of outrage and frustration in its first presidential election since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. . . . Regardless of which flawed character they choose as their next leader, Russians can expect more hard slogging into a future filled with uncertain economics and erratic reforms as the Russian economy continues its painful transformation toward a free market. Vast corruption, troubling inequalities and missed opportunities will continue to define Russia's political and economic terrain."

Today's London Guardian says: "Boris Yeltsin ended his campaign as he started it, his voice croaking with fatigue. But in the time between, the Russian president and his teams of advisers constructed a towering edifice of a campaign. . . . Gennady Zyuganov's campaign has infuriated the pundits and defied the rules. It has been quiet, staid and conservative when everyone expected it to be raucous, angry and hungry for votes."

An editorial in the Suddeutsche Zeitung today signed by Josef Joffe says: "The rest of the world has already made its choice. If it were up to Bill Clinton, Helmut Kohl, John Major or Jacques Chirac, Boris Yeltsin would be confirmed in the presidency with the 99.6 per cent of the vote usually reserved for dictators -- most recently Saddam Hussein. . . . The help provided by the West in this campaign went far beyond the discreet aid which can be discreetly forgotten should the wrong man win. Never before has the West so unashamedly interfered in the democratic process than in post-soviet Russia. . . . A few months ago even sober observers thought the presidential elections would be postponed. But what happened is that Yeltsin has faced the democratic verdict. For a society which for centuries experienced only despotism, and which unlike Germany did not learn democracy under the loaded guns of occupying troops, that is not a bad performance, and it cannot be divorced from the person of Boris Yeltsin."

Lee Hockstader and David Hoffman write today in The Washington Post: "Russia's presidential election campaign entered its final hours. . . with an ailing Boris Yeltsin in ominous seclusion and his political fortunes seemingly riding on whether his supporters would turn out in large numbers at the polls. . . . More than the dubious health of the unseen incumbent, voter turnout was the public preoccupation of Yeltsin's campaign organization."

In the U.S. newspaper Newsday today, Susan Sachs writes: "On one side is incumbent Boris N. Yeltsin, 65, who promises to continue steering the country toward a free-market economy but with a course correction to take account of society's elderly and unemployed. On the other is Gennady Zyuganov, 52, who says his revived Communist Party offers a better road map, one that would re-establish state controls over the media and major sectors of the economy. . . . Russia in transition is too dynamic, with too many internal contradictions, to promise predictability to any president."

Claudia Rosett writes in today's Wall Street Journal Europe: "Many expect turbulence soon after the election, whoever wins. Since the first round in June, jockeying between the two candidates has been fierce for the remainiing third of the vote. Russia's more than 106 million registered voters, already holding some widely divided views, have been treated to hotly fought campaigns in the provinces, major shakeups in the Kremlin and proposals from the Communists to form a coalition government. One result, apparent even before the runoff, has been a fresh bout of intrigue in the Kremlin, auguring new power struggles should Mr. Yeltsin win."

The New York Times' Alessandra Stanley writes today in the newspaper: "The economic and social problems that will surface after (Russian voters) cast their ballots will bedevil the government no matter who wins. Even if President Boris Yeltsin wins re-election, his government will have little time for rejoicing. Tax revenues are dangerously low, while government spending throughout the campaign was feverish and unaccounted for. Just as the bills come due, a new, as yet unappointed administration will face critical choices about revenue, investment and spending at a time when its opposition will be most intent on testing its powers. Critics of the Yeltsin administration are already predicting a major investment and budget crisis in the fall even if he wins. Some of the president's own experts are saying it is already at hand."

Alan Philps writes today in The London Daily Telegraph: "President Yeltsin, said still to be recovering from a cold, kept out of the public eye yesterday. . . , earning a big taunt from the Communists that Russians were being asked to 'vote for a living corpse.' . . .With Mr. Yeltsin confined to his out-of-town residence, his new security adviser, the retired general, Aleksander Lebed, launched a program to fight crime and corruption and make Russia great again."

In the British Financial Times today, Chrystia Freeland writes: "When Boris Yeltsin was elected president of Russia in 1991, he assumed the position of the powerless head of a soviet province. Only months later, the soviet empire collapsed in disarray, and the Russian leader became, by default, the ruler of the Kremlin. . . . Mr. Yeltsin has degenerated over the past week into a sickly and secluded figure, uncomfortably reminiscent of the geriatric Communist Party Politburo bosses who ruled the Soviet Union in the bad old days."