HEALTHY WIN, HEALTHY HEART?
JULY 3, 1996
In a controversial runoff, 67% of 108 million eligible Russians voted for a president. The turnout means certain victory for Boris Yeltsin. But is Yeltsin's health good enough to last a 2nd four year term?
Simon Marks answered your questions in our Russian Online Forum.
Browse NewsHour coverage of:
Runoff Elections, 1996 Election Day, 1996
The aftermath of the June 16 election
The effect of Chechnya on the vote
Preview of Yeltsin's campaign
Analysis of December, 1995 elections
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The latest returns and projections from Russia are giving the lead to President Boris Yeltsin over Communist Gennady Zyuganov. We have a report from Julian Manyon of Independent Television News.
JULIAN MANYON: The count is now well underway in Moscow, where Boris Yeltsin will certainly win handsomely. But the best news for the President is coming from the Far East and Siberia, where the election center's computer puts in some 10 percent ahead, though Yeltsin supporters are cautioning that the gap will narrow a bit as results from the Communist heartland, the so-called "red belt," come in.
These first results appear to put Boris Yeltsin firmly on the road to a historic victory, a reward for the enormous physical efforts that he's put into the campaign. But today's events have also once again dramatically highlighted the question of the President's health. Can he cope with or even physically survive the second four-year term that he now seems to be winning? This morning, the world's press waited at the Moscow polling station where the President normally votes. Kremlin officials looked increasingly worried, but, in fact, they already knew that Yeltsin would not be coming, and soon, news came that the President had, in fact, remained at Barbeka outside Moscow where he's been resting since last Friday. There a stiff looking Yeltsin cast his vote in what appeared to be a local polling station in front of just the government's cameras.
PRESIDENT BORIS YELTSIN, Russia: (speaking through interpreter) I've given journalists 120 percent of my time. Now I'd like to call on all Russians to come and vote, absolutely all of you.
JULIAN MANYON: Yeltsin's appeal appears to have had the desired effect, but as he made it, an American television company was claiming that he has been suffering from angina, chest pains which could be connected to the two bouts of heart trouble he suffered last year. The prime minister, Viktor Chernomyrdin, said that he did not know if this was true, but Yeltsin's campaign team says that the problem was just a cold and insists that he will be able to tackle a second term.
SERGEI KARAGANOV, Yeltsin Campaign Aide: The President did well, in spite of his recent sickness, because he's real tired, and I think that we are much more firmly on the democratic route of development.
JULIAN MANYON: For the Communist challenger, Gennady Zyuganov, it looks like bitter, if predictable, defeat. He will not try to rally his disappointed party for the political struggles that still lie ahead.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: We get two perspectives now on today's election. Stephen Sestanovich is a vice president of the Carnegie Endowment, and a former staff member of the National Security Council. He just returned from Moscow. And Sergei Grigoriev was deputy spokesman for Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990-91. He is now a senior associate at the Strengthening Democratic Institutions Project at Harvard. Thank you both for being with us. Steve Sestanovich, from the results that we have so far, do you think you can project a Yeltsin victory?
STEPHEN SESTANOVICH, Carnegie Endowment: Yes. We've only got a third of the vote at this point, but exit polls and the count so far make it look as though Yeltsin will win with a 10 to 15 percent lead. The turnout was quite strong. That was what the Yeltsin people needed. They also needed to get the votes from the candidates who did not make it into the run-off, and they seem to have done that overwhelmingly.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Anything surprising so far on these results?
MR. SESTANOVICH: This is really a game plan victory. This is exactly what the Yeltsin people were hoping for. They knew that if there was a bigger drop-off in turn out they would have trouble, but it didn't materialize.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And Mr. Grigoriev, do you have anything to add to that? Do you see any surprises, and would you project a Yeltsin victory so far?
SERGEI GRIGORIEV, Harvard University: (Boston) Yes. I will certainly agree with Mr. Sestanovich. Before coming to this program, I spoke to my friends with the Yeltsin campaign staff, and they told me they were already celebrating. They had champagne on the table. They thought that it really worked out well, and they're quite confident that Yeltsin will preserve this lead and will win eventually.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And you heard the report about his health. What do you know or what do you believe about the state of Yeltsin's health?
MR. GRIGORIEV: Well, as far as I know, when I spoke to his campaign staffers, they told me that he's got under a very heavy rain, cold Baltic rain the western part of Russian in the Coliningrad region. They think that it's part of the whole thing. Second, of course, we should bear in mind that Yeltsin has got quite a record of number of medical diseases, including a heart problem, so probably he's got to get tired because he's been campaigning in a real vigorous way, and I think that due to his previous strong efforts in the campaign he was able to show good results right now, but it tells upon his health.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What do you think about his health?
MR. SESTANOVICH: In previous episodes--the first thing we have to say is we don't know--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mm-hmm.
MR. SESTANOVICH: In previous episodes he didn't bounce back this fast. You didn't see him on TV in just a couple of days speaking, moving around easily. If he has some problem, it doesn't seem to be on the scale of his earlier heart attacks, but he--in addition to this medical difficulty--seems to have felt some letdown as I found many people in Moscow did last week after the first round. That seemed to be the big hurdle that they had to pass, and the second round just lacked the dramatic tension for them.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Is he physically up to the tasks facing him in the next four years?
MR. SESTANOVICH: We don't know.
MR. GRIGORIEV: We don't know.
MR. SESTANOVICH: We're not going to know for a while, but we're going to find out something soon, which is whether he reacts to this exertion of the campaign just ended in the way that he has often responded after previous exertions, which is by withdrawing, being out of sight. He's got a lot of business to do, and if he withdraws in that way, it will take a toll on the--on his political power.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And Mr. Grigoriev, if he is not up to it, what does the Constitution say about who succeeds him, how the succession is carried out if he were ill? What happens?
MR. GRIGORIEV: Well, the Constitution foresees the prime minister taking over. Since 1993, there is no position of a vice president in the Russian constitution, so if something happens to Yeltsin, then Prime Minister Chernomyrdin automatically becomes the man in charge, but he's supposed then to schedule new elections within 90 days, so in that case, we're going to be eyewitnesses to a new campaign. We shouldn't also forget about the strong and ambitious leaders such as Mr. Lebed, who also would like to show himself as a real presidential candidate.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Who is the retired general that has been brought on as National Security Council head.
MR. GRIGORIEV: Yes. And I think this was a very correct move for the Yeltsin campaign to bring Lebed because it seems now most of Lebed's voters decided to vote for Yeltsin and Lebed as a team. But on the other hand, so far, with all his executive powers, Lebed has no constitutional power of being an heir apparent, so it's probably going to be another campaign, and I will not be surprised to see Mr. Lebed run, as well as some other people belonging at this point also to Mr. Yeltsin's coalition.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Grigoriev, what do you think the elections say about the current state of Russian democracy?
MR. GRIGORIEV: I think the fact that the election took place, it's already a major achievement, and it also shows that Russian democracy took some root in the country. I also think that the fact that Mr. Yeltsin was able to resist the pressure on behalf of some of the hard-line members of inner circle and decided to go ahead with the election, it also shows that there is an achievement, and it also shows that Russia so far is moving along the path of democracy.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What do you think about that? Do the--has the process worked? Has it strengthened democracy? Do you see a strengthening of democracy?
MR. SESTANOVICH: Yeah. I'd go beyond just saying that the fact of the election is, is important, although I think it is, and I think the turnout is very impressive. I think you see in the--in the election campaign a lot of democratic forces at work, that is, the pressure of leaders to respond to popular desires, the need to build coalitions, the need to reformulate their program, to--to frame a choice for the nation, and all of that has happened in this election in a rather impressive way.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Is that how you see the bringing on of Retired General Lebed, that, that Yeltsin needed his vote, so he brings him in, that this is a sign that the process is working?
MR. SESTANOVICH: Yeah. Yeltsin, after round one, had to get at least 15 percent more of the vote in order to win, and he did that by reaching out to the other candidates who had not made it in the first round. He did that in a way that has some sort of peculiar characteristics that we know from Russian politics, a lot of Byzantine intriguing, but he also had a very familiar democratic character, trying to reach out to candidates who represented a different part of the country and bring their voters aboard.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And Mr. Grigoriev, what changes do you think we might see? Let's assume that the trend, a current trend of voting is, is held, and, and President Yeltsin is reelected. What changes might we see in what he does in Russia, how he rules?
MR. GRIGORIEV: Well, I think we have to look at two major areas which in a way will define the changes that Mr. Yeltsin might bring into life. One certainly is the effect that Mr. Yeltsin cannot fail to take into account the pressure of the voters, the pressure of various interest groups and various segments of the population. The people who supported him often said that they wanted some changes in his program and see, for example, during the campaign he reversed his stand on the war in Chechnya. He did a lot of other things, and we can certainly see that it will all depend on the pressure--upon the pressure from various groups of voters who supported him this time--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So at this point--
MR. GRIGORIEV: --together with--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: --you don't see major changes that you can point to, we're going to see this and that?
MR. GRIGORIEV: I do not think there's going to be major changes, but I just wanted to speak about another dimension, and this dimension is the fact that Mr. Yeltsin will still have to deal with a very well organized and strong left wing in the country and I think in a way it will also determine his policies. He will have to continue building coalitions, and he will also have to advocate his reformist line in constant battles not only with well organized left wing but also with a Communist-run parliament. That's the second thing, besides there is also the whole issue of the economy. There is quite a number of pessimistic prognosis about the financial crisis, economic crisis that a lot of people predict, and I think that Mr. Yeltsin will certainly have to take this into account in light of the suggestions about the composition of a new government which now he's supposed to form and also in terms of the policy choices he's facing.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Changes?
MR. SESTANOVICH: Well, Yeltsin has said he's going to have serious changes in personnel, and there have already been very important ones, sweeping changes in the defense ministry, in his inner circle, and now you have to--a process in which the power balance among people who are left and new people who are brought in has to be worked out. Yeltsin has to deal with the left, as Mr. Grigoriev has said, although the left is going to be under tremendous pressure.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You're talking about the Communist Party which--
MR. SESTANOVICH: The Communist Party, I think, has every chance of splitting in the next year or so. They are losers. They are--what they stand for broadly has been repudiated. They've not been able to make themselves a really legitimate democratic force, and now people within that party are going to be saying we've got to remake ourselves. Now will probably split off, ally with other political forces. This is part of Russia's democratic evolution.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And what about, just briefly, what about U.S.-Russian relations? Do you expect any changes there?
MR. SESTANOVICH: I think it'll be broadly continuous. There are issues that have been put off the agenda for a while during the campaign. They'll probably resurface. The administration has a list of issues that it's particularly interested in--ratification of the Start II Treaty and so forth. Those will begin to resurface in official discussions.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Grigoriev, anything new in U.S. relations you expect?
MR. GRIGORIEV: Well, I think that the United States handled this period of political tension in Russia in a real good way, and I think that there is--there are good chances that things will continue as Mr. Sestanovich has just predicted. I think, on the other hand, we should not forget about some of the attitudes that Mr. Lebed has been expressing during the campaign because Russia is going through a very painful period of finding its own identity on the international arena. And I think that certain aspects--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You're talking about some of the comments he's made which have been very controversial about what religions are--are national Russian religions, and he leaves out Judaism.
MR. GRIGORIEV: Yes, including this comment and a number of others. But I think that the United States has been able to demonstrate good patience in treating these issues like this, and I think that basically if there is enough patience and goodwill, I think things will continue to improve.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, thank you, gentlemen, very much.