Struggle for power

Parliament's election as trial balloon for electing Yeltsin's successor

Moscow, Russia
December 5, 1999
Sonntags Zeitung

by Ursula Zenger

Moscow - The report that Russian President Boris Yeltsin had to go back into the hospital again last Monday has its special symbolism. Two weeks before the Duma's election, the people of the Russian federation are reminded that a Parliament for the post-Yeltsin era will be appointed on December 19.

However, the 68-year-old demonstrated his ability to carry out his duties, in spite of a lung inflammation, in that he telephoned Arafat from his sickbed and, on Friday, pointedly let it be known that the military offensive in Chechnia would be carried out "until terrorism was eradicated" in the north Caucuses.

In spite of that, it cannot be overlooked that the parliamentary elections are serving as trial balloons for the election of a new president which happens on June 4, 2000 - in case something does not happen before then. Over 5,000 candidates from 28 parties are campaigning for the 450 seats in the Duma, half of which are elected by the representative proportional system, the other half are involved in direct mandate in individual groups. But the scene is dominated by a battle among giants, by any top politicians who have ambitions for the presidential office or some other manner of power in post-Yeltsin Russia.

There is Juri Luschkov, the powerful mayor of the capitol city, who applied for a re-election there on the day of the Duma elections as city chief. For that reason, every democratic party in Moscow backed him which was fully united in the State Duma with Luschkov's Block Fatherland-Entire Russia against Yeltsin and his administration.

Even fledging Kirjenko was hard at work

The heavyweights in the ring at the Duma election also include long-term Foreign Minister Jewgeni Primakov, one of a series of men who was called by Yeltsin in ever shorter intervals to the administrative chief and was transferred as soon as they became too self-determined or too popular. And only after their transfer could they then begin to work in earnest on what was festering the ambitious power-seekers - succeeding Yeltsin.

Even 37-year-old Sergei Kirijenko, who had been taken under the wing of the ex-premier, was not sitting on the sidelines. He is active in the Union of Legal Powers and is trying to profile himself in Moscow as Luschkov's opposing candidate for the mayor's office. He will have to hold back as far as his presidential ambitions go though, because a celebrity from Yeltsin's former confidantes, Anatoli Tschubais, is also getting involved with his party. That could open the back door into the administration for political child prodigy .

The battle of the giants is being carried out with vigor, and the Kremlim has jumped into the foray. Yeltsin's entourage, which is worried about its own flows of power and money, does not want to see the popularity of Premier Vladimir Putin, who has led this one through the Chechnia campaign, increase. The public can witness the showdown every Saturday, when they sit in front of the television set with their zappers. Week after week, broadcasters sympathetic to the administration, ORT and RTR have endlessly raked new muck on critics of the Kremlin, like that of dismissed corruption investigator Juri Skuratov last Friday. The prime targets, however, are Juri Luschkov and Jewgeni Primakov, two politicians who could be dangerous to Yeltsin's declared crown prince Putin. Luschkov, besides being accused of being connected with the corruption scandals, was also accused of being sympathetic to the Scientology sect. The TV muckraking battle is getting to be too much. The President of the small republic of Bashkortostan, as have many of the regional princes allied with Luschkov, have recently been replacing the compromising material with entertainment films - "Kobra."

Even the democrats are fighting using the principle of negative campaign instead of a political program for the Duma positions. "Kompromat" is the name for what all fear, yet what all seek: compromising material to discredit the opposition. In the face of a lack of facts, it can be invented. An ex-secret agent like Premier Putin has a terrifying secret advantage in that aspect.

Incriminating material is not the only weapon in the election battle. Maria Arbatova, Russia's best known feminist, is said to have reported that "respectable people, not bandits" had offered her 150,000 franks and a residence if she gave up her candidacy. Ex-premier Primakov has also accused the Kremlin of offering his party's candidates money to withdraw from the election slate.

There is no lack of the campaign issues in Russia. Nevertheless, it seems certain that once again only a few political blocks will be able to make the five percent hurdle: the communists, the big democratic blocks of Luschkov/Primakov and Our House Russia, Grigori Jawlinski's Reform party Jabloko and, possibly, also the rights outside party of Schirinovski.

Unproductive string-pulling will continue

In contrast, Putin and the Yeltsin clan have no house power in Parliament. At most, they could count on the loyalty of many- and long-termed Minister President Viktor Tschernomyrdin and his block of Our House Russia. It remains to be seen, though, as to whether the party recently founded by Minister Sergei Schoigu will be up to snuff.

It is pre-programmed into the system that the unproductive string-pulling between the powerful president and, on one side, the administration appointed by him, and the Parliament on the other, will continue. Unless Yeltsin's successor can arrange something with the reformed parties - or if he comes from one of these parties and can form an effective coalition.

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