RUSSIA: BACK TO THE BALLOT BOX
JUNE 17, 1996
For the first time,
Russians voted for a President last Sunday. Because of a close count - imcumbent Boris Yeltsin with 35% of the vote leads Communist candidate Gennady Zyuganov who got 32% - they'll go back to the polls on July 3, for a runoff election. Simon Marks has a background report, followed by a Newsmaker with Secretary of State, Warren Christopher.
Other NewsHour coverage of the Russian elections:
June 17: Secretary of State Warren Christopher discusses the Russian elections with Jim Lehrer in a Newsmaker interview.
June 14: Simon Marks in Moscow reports on the Russian election two days before voters go to the polls.
June 4: U.S. ambassador to Russia Thomas Pickering discusses the elections with the NewsHour.
May 24: The NewsHour interviews Communist Party candidate Gennady Zyuganov
Join an Online NewsHour forum on the Russian elections.
SIMON MARKS: As votes were counted across Russia, it became clear that voters were divided along economic and geographic lines. Boris Yeltsin won big majorities in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and prosperous areas to the West. He won unexpected votes in the Russian Far East. Communist Leader Gennady Zyuganov was strong in the country's industrial heartland but failed to expand beyond his political base. President Yeltsin, who had predicted he would win reelection outright, went on television today to drum up support for a second round of voting he didn't want to have to contest.
BORIS YELTSIN, President, Russia: (speaking through interpreter) The choice now is crystal clear. Either back to revolutions and shocks, or forward to stability and well-being. Today as never before we must be united.
SIMON MARKS: But the President's opponent, Gennady Zyuganov, confidently predicted that he will triumph in the second round. Asked about his chances, he described them as the best. All eyes are now on this man, General Alexander Lebed, who finished third in yesterday's poll. With 15 percent of the vote, analysts say he could be the king maker in the second round, and both President Yeltsin and Mr. Zyuganov were busy seeking his endorsement today. Speaking last night, the General was characteristically dower.
GENERAL ALEXANDER LEBED, Presidential Candidate: (speaking through interpreter) If you look at the figures, around 16 million people put their trust in me, and I have one duty, to fulfill their expectations. That, I will do. Only by our minds, our will, our work can we get out of the hole into which we've fallen.
SIMON MARKS: At his campaign headquarters, General Lebed's aides are busy making plans for the future. The former paratrooper who ran as the candidate of law and order was summoned to the Kremlin amid speculation that he will back Boris Yeltsin in Round 2.
VLADIMIR KLIMOV, Lebed Spokesman: (speaking through interpreter) Well, naturally, this will be Alexander Ivanovich's decision, but I believe that his choice will be towards democracy because he stands for the democratic development of Russia.
SIMON MARKS: Does that mean Boris Yeltsin?
VLADIMIR KLIMOV: (speaking through interpreter) I think more than likely that will be the case.
SIMON MARKS: But Gen. Lebed's aides say his support will come at a price. They point out that Gennady Zyuganov has already offered him the post of prime minister, and they're publicly rejecting suggestions from the Kremlin that the career soldier could become President Yeltsin's next defense minister.
VLADIMIR KLIMOV: (speaking through interpreter) The post of minister of defense is not appropriate for a man of his standing. He now wields such great political authority in our country that we're not talking about simply reforming the military. We're talking about moving ahead with the entire democratic transformation of the country.
SIMON MARKS: Yeltsin advisers won't speculate on the precise nature of the general's future role, but they do accept the need to strike a deal.
DMITRY RURIKOV, Yeltsin Aide: He said that he knows how to put law and order in this country in better shape, so he may be given a chance to prove, and that would be only good for him and what is more important for the country because he has some support with the people.
SIMON MARKS: It isn't clear how much authority Gen. Lebed has over his voters or even if he will call on them to support another candidate, but in order for Yeltsin to win next time, he'll need to get out his vote. Yesterday, the Kremlin was stunned by a lower voter turnout than expected. Around 70 percent of the electorate went to the polls but many stayed away, choosing to spend a sunny Sunday at their dachas, their country homes, rather than stand in line waiting to vote. Tonight, the Kremlin announced plans to hold the second round on a Wednesday, July 3rd, rather than risk another weekend election. Analysts say Boris Yeltsin's main challenge between now and then is to keep voter interest alive. Michael McFaul of the Carnegie Endowment.
MICHAEL McFAUL, Carnegie Endowment: He has to create some sense that this second round is just as important as the first. If Yeltsin gets 70 percent of the people to vote again in the second round, he wins. If it gets down to 60 percent or lower, Zyuganov wins. Turnout will decide the second round.
SIMON MARKS: In some communities yesterday, authorities went door-to-door trying to get out the vote. They'll do he same again two weeks' time as Russians resolve the lingering questions over their nation's political fate.