“Those who are in power now are criminals,” he said. “For whom else could I vote?”
Nostalgia for the Soviet Union
The Communists rely on a small but cohesive core of members, who number 154,244, according to the Ministry of Justice, compared with United Russia’s 2,073,722 members. Many party members are in their 50s or 60s and dwell psychologically in the Soviet Union, said Boris Makarenko, deputy director of the Center for Political Technologies. The protest voters make less than ideal fellow travelers, concentrated as they are in the big cities among the urban middle class. It will not be easy to profit from the windfall, he said.
“The Communist Party will not do anything to lose their core votes,” Makarenko said. “The party’s ability to change is severely limited.”
Zyuganov likes the comfy status of official, unthreatening opposition, Makarenko said, so instead of heralding a bright, new future, the Dec. 4 election may well mark the party’s inexorable retreat toward what one of its early revolutionaries called “the dustbin of history.”
He is 67 and has run the party since it was formed in 1993, rising from the ashes of the Soviet Communist party, which Yeltsin banned in 1991.
So far, the party’s collective heads remain unturned from the established line despite the flattering attention of the parliamentary elections. They’re still talking nostalgically about the Soviet Union, planning the nationalization of major industries once they return to power and keeping a dashing photo of Stalin on the party Web site.
“They pushed through the [World Trade Organization],” Zyuganov said of the Putin team in a darkly accusative tone at the news conference, “and this will turn the country into a colony.”
Lack of new leadership
Dmitri Novikov, the party’s ideologist, arrived at the news conference with a copy of Pravda — the party paper whose name means truth, founded by Lenin in 1912 — tucked under his arm. He described nationalization as a good thing and said it would leave small- and medium-size businesses operating freely. “Nationalization will affect a small number of individuals,” he said, “but the entire country will benefit.”
Zyuganov has been adroit at fending off competitors, running the party unchallenged, said Nikolay Petrov, a scholar at the Carnegie Moscow Center. New leadership, which might have attracted broader support, has not developed. If Zyuganov couldn’t capitalize on the opportunity Yeltsin’s weakness presented 15 years ago, Petrov said, he has little chance of doing so now.
“He’s too old,” Petrov said. “He doesn’t have the political skills, and he doesn’t have political ambitions.”
In Russian elections for the Duma, voters cast their ballots for party lists, not individual deputies. Not so in presidential contests. On March 4, voters will judge Zyuganov, not his party.
Zyuganov said he expects to win. Russians, he said, are tired of all the lies. And he has never deceived them, he told reporters.
Earlier in the week, the All-Russian Center for Study of Public Opinion asked voters how they would cast their ballots if the presidential election were held Sunday. Fifty-two percent of respondents chose Putin; 11 percent picked Zyuganov.
He still has six weeks to change history.
Researcher Natasha Abbakumova contributed to this report.