Yeltsin’s victory wasn’t a surprise

Chris Vetter

Russian President Boris Yeltsin defeated Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov on Wednesday in the first-ever runoff presidential election in Russian history.
Yeltsin received approximately 54 percent of the vote to Zyuganov’s 41 percent.
Yeltsin’s victory is a step forward for democracy and a step away from the Communist ideals Zyuganov hoped to reinstate.
Yeltsin’s victory didn’t surprise Institute of Technology senior Maksim Tsvetovatyy, a native Russian who came to the United States in 1991. Although international election monitors have found no evidence of widespread ballot fraud, he said that Yeltsin would have cheated if he had to in order to win.
“If Zyuganov got 65 percent of the vote, Yeltsin would have gotten 85 percent of the vote,” he added.
Tsvetovatyy grew up in communist Russia and remembers the fears of communism well.
“We spent a lot of time listening to the radio to find out what was really going on,” he said. “It was an illegal radio station. (The announcers) said, ‘If you hear shots, you know what happened to us.'”
Tsvetovatyy said economic conditions were bad in Russia.
“Lines were very common, definitely for food. Often for hours — meat definitely,” he said.
Tsvetovatyy said things have changed slightly now that the market has been privatized.
“If you have the money, you can buy just about anything,” he said.
The margin of Yeltsin’s victory was wide considering Yeltsin made few public appearances in the last two weeks of the election campaign, and questions about his health continued to mount.
University political science professor and Russia expert Evelyn Davidheiser said most Russian citizens did not know about Yeltsin’s health problems.
“There was very little mention of it in the Russian press,” Davidheiser said. The only way people heard of Yeltsin’s failing health was from Zyuganov and the Communist party, she said.
Davidheiser said the only major appearance by Yeltsin in the final week was a prepared video he released to the public.
“Yeltsin didn’t sound very dynamic,” she said. “He was short, not charismatic.”
The cause and nature of Yeltsin’s illness is not yet widely known.
The voter turnout was actually less than the first round, held June 16. Turnout for Wednesday’s election was approximately 67 percent of registered voters, compared to 71 percent for the first-round election. The first round was used to narrow the field of candidates to two people.
This was the first runoff election in Russian history. In 1991, a second round was not necessary because Yeltsin won the first round with more than 50 percent of the vote.
Davidheiser said turnout was lighter because people who voted for any of the other eight candidates from the first-round election stayed home rather than voting for Yeltsin of Zyuganov.
The next challenge for Yeltsin is selecting a prime minister. According to the Russian constitution, if the president dies, the prime minister takes over until another election can be held within 90 days of the president’s death. The prime minister is also the “chief assistant of the president,” Davidheiser said.
The Russian Parliament has little power, but it has the ability to veto the selection for prime minister, Davidheiser said, adding that the Communist-controlled parliament could make it difficult for Yeltsin to choose a prime minister.
Tsvetovatyy said there is little difference between Yeltsin and Zyuganov and Russia still must grow, regardless of its leader.
“I see Russia compared to America in the 1930s,” he said. “I hope that out of the chaos it emerges into a power like the U.S. is today.”