Zyuganov Sees Hope in Regional Victories

As the Kremlin appeared to win seven gubernatorial elections against four for the opposition Monday, Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov indicated that his party is banking on its victories in the regional votes now under way to give it more influence over government next year.


"Our perspective for 1997 is that either we stop this growing protest and chaos, which could become massive, or we look for a way out -- including through the efforts of the Federation Council, which will change in quality in the near future," Zyuganov said at a press conference.


Changes in the composition of the Federation Council, he said, will now permit the Communists to work with regional policymakers who "will not simply be yes-men to Mr. [President Boris] Yeltsin or [Kremlin chief of staff Anatoly] Chubais."


He also said his party would try to get 12 amendments to the constitution passed in 1997.


But if the composition of the council is certainly changing as a result of elections now under way in 54 regions, just how radical that change will be is a matter for dispute.


On Sunday, Alexei Lebed -- the younger brother of former Security Council chief Alexander Lebed -- won the governor's seat in the Republic of Khakassiya. He stood as an independent, making it unclear whether either the Communists or the Kremlin can count on his support.


Elsewhere, Kremlin-appointed incumbents staged a minor rally in what has been for them a tough regional election season.


Seven regions retained their current leaders, while four candidates backed by Zyuagnov's National Patriotic Union -- an alliance of nationalists and communists -- upset the incumbents.


In all there were 15 elections Sunday. Three regions -- Tyumen, voters supporting him over Yevgeny Reznikov, general director of the Khakasugol coal company. In the Krasnodar region, National Patriotic Union candidate Nikolay Kondratenko hauled in 80 percent of the vote, crushing Yeltsin's former chief of staff Nikolay Yegorov.


In several regions, the incumbents also found the elections easy going. Mikhail Nikolayev won in Yakutia, besting Communist Artur Alekseyev 60.2 to 26.2 percent, with other candidates trailing even further behind.


Arkhangelsk had an upset, with Anatoly Yefremov defeating Communist Yury Gusikov 58 to 33 percent. Yefremov won "against all prognoses," said the Central Election Commission's Alexander Vishnyakov, according to Interfax. "It's the first time an incumbent has been reelected in the northwest regions."


Nikolay Petrov of the Moscow center of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said the incumbents' victories were due to lack of competition. "Everywhere the opposition put up real competition, the incumbents lost or were forced into a run-off," he said.


A look at the National Patriotic Union's victories lends credence to Petrov's words. In Kostroma, Viktor Shershunov battered incumbent Valery Arbuzov 64 percent to 30.7 percent. In Chelyabinsk Pyotr Sumin blasted incumbent Vadim Solovyev 51 to 27 percent, and in Ryazan Vyacheslav Lyubimov defeated Igor Ilyev 56 to 34 percent.


The Federation Council, the 178-member body in which the new governors will sit, has limited powers. But it is an essential element in any effort to amend the constitution -- something that has been out of the question so long as the upper house was populated by presidential appointees.


Now that the makeup of the council is changing, Zyuganov talked about making 12 amendments in 1997 to Russia's basic law, which he called "dying" and "nonfunctional." Some changes, he said, relate to bringing the constitutions of the Russian Federation and the country's 89 regions and republics in line with one another. Others would increase the legislature's control over the executive.


"We have to introduce amendments that will even put the president under stricter control, no matter who he may be," said Zyuganov.


At his press conference, Zyuganov also attacked the government's record in 1996 and denied accusations that he has thrown his hand in with the government.


Those accusations arose after the Communists recently supported passage of the government's budget through its first two readings, but he said the Communists remain "irreconcilable" with the government's present course.