Zyuganov Unveils Agenda Of Major Social Spending

Communist Party leader and presidential candidate Gennady Zyuganov unveiled his platform Wednesday, promising to double pensions and wages, guarantee everyone a job, and cut taxes for producers.

Polls show Zyuganov is the leading opponent for acting President Vladimir Putin in the March 26 presidential elections - though polls show Zyuganov far behind and most observers say he has little chance to win.

"We are the only party that has everything," Zyuganov said, speaking at a news conference. "We have experience, knowledge and a realistic platform. Putin has no platform and can't answer questions he is obliged to before the state and the people."

Putin has been vague about his platform so far, other than to say he stands for a strong state and market economics.

Zyuganov, who gets 12 to 14 percent in presidential polls, lags behind Putin, whose rating is around 50 percent.

The Zyuganov program includes:

-A state vodka monopoly, so the revenue goes to the government, not to "bandits." There would also be a government monopoly on wine and tobacco. The money would pay for an ambitious social agenda.

-Every citizen would be guaranteed work, as in Soviet times.

-Taxes on producers of goods and services would be cut in half, as would be rates for heat, energy and transport.

-The minimum pension would be raised to 1,200 rubles ($45) per month and the minimum wage for teachers and doctors to 3,000 rubles per month ($108).

The Communists have traditionally pushed for more social spending in the annual state budget, which then goes unfunded because the government does not effectively collect taxes.

Yevgeny Volk, a political analyst with the Heritage Foundation in Moscow, said Zyuganov's platform differs little from the previous Communist approach. "I don't see anything new here. It's just a set of traditional Communist slogans with no practical substance," Volk said.

But Volk said debating the practicality of the platform was relevant as Putin is a shoe-in for president and Zyuganov "doesn't believe he can win; it's just a question of his political survival - if he doesn't run he will be finished and forgotten."

Most observers say that while the loyal Communist electorate is large enough for Zyuganov to possibly finish second in the first round and make the second round, it remains too small for him to win.