Yeltsin Defeats Communist Challenger

By David Hoffman
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, July 4, 1996

MOSCOW, JULY 4 (THURSDAY) -- President Boris Yeltsin triumphed over rival Gennady Zyuganov in Wednesday's Russian presidential runoff election, bolstering the country's struggling free-market democracy and dashing Communist hopes of returning to power.

With 89.6 percent of the ballots counted this morning, Yeltsin was leading with 53.5 percent to 40.5 percent for Zyuganov, and 4.9 percent voted "against both."

Russia's third nationwide vote in six months passed without upheaval or violence as more than 67 percent of the 108 million eligible voters cast ballots. There were no significant allegations of fraud, and the Communists said any protest would be made through the courts and not in the streets. Barring unforeseen complications, Yeltsin will be inaugurated next month as the first leader in Russia's history to be returned to power through a free, popular election.

But the campaign itself took its toll on Yeltsin, leaving him a victor in apparent ill health. Over the last week he has missed scheduled appearances and been secluded in a country residence. On Wednesday, Yeltsin failed to show up to vote before the assembled press in Moscow. He later was shown in a Kremlin-produced videotape, voting at a small village where the country compound is located, with no reporters present and no questions asked. Yeltsin looked wan but made a short appeal to voters to come to the polls.

Yeltsin's advisers had said he was suffering from a cold, but Wednesday night, after his victory seemed certain, there were suggestions from officials that he was afflicted with something more serious. Georgy Satarov, the president's political adviser, told reporters that, given Yeltsin's history of heart trouble, it was impossible for him to risk public appearances in recent days.

"We couldn't have risked his life," he said, acknowledging that Yeltsin's ability to work had been impaired since he fell ill last week.

Yeltsin, regarded as politically finished just six months ago, waged an energetic campaign focused on just one question: whether or not Russia should return to the Communist past. He dominated Russia's nascent free press and pulled out all the stops as the Kremlin incumbent. Despite many predictions that he would never go ahead with the election, Yeltsin did.

President Clinton, in a written statement, called the election "a triumph for democracy" and said the process "shows just how far Russia's political reform has come over the last five years."

Yeltsin reaped sufficient votes from the also-rans in last month's first round to defeat Zyuganov. In particular, exit polls and interviews at polling places suggested he picked up support from the backers of retired Lt. Gen. Alexander Lebed, the third-place finisher last month, who was subsequently appointed Yeltsin's security chief, and of liberal economist Grigory Yavlinsky, who ran fourth.

Satarov, the Yeltsin adviser, disclosed Wednesday night that the Yeltsin campaign had carried out a large-scale attempt to challenge voters in the "Red Belt" regions across Russia's southern tier, where Zyuganov did well in the first round.

Oleg Bocharov, a Yeltsin operative who led the effort, said 8,000 supporters had gone to six regions in the fertile, rural territory. The Yeltsin supporters spread out to villages and, working as observers at polling stations, claimed that voters were arriving without required passports, Bocharov said. In some cases, the Yeltsin backers summoned police. This frightened many voters, and turnout dropped in Zyuganov's home turf, Bocharov said.

In some key regions, Yeltsin did much better in the second round, competing against only Zyuganov, than in the first round against nine challengers. Returns showed that Yeltsin did very well up and down the Pacific coast, while Siberia appeared to be split between the two candidates, with the northern part going more for Yeltsin and the southern for Zyuganov.

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