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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Referendum At Risk From Voter Apathy

Some of Russia's potential voters, having subjected themselves to the dreary campaign presentations on television, say they are turned off by what they see: men in gray suits, indistinguishable from the gray apparatchiks of the Communist era.

Others, simple folk like drivers and mechanics, say they cannot figure out which party stands for what and may stay away from the polls on Sunday.

Among intellectuals, even those stand behind reform, many say they are so disgusted by the squabbling in the Gaidar bloc and the divisions among the pro-democracy parties that they do not intend to vote.

This all adds up to trouble for President Boris Yeltsin, who has staked Russia's future as a democracy on the adoption by referendum of a new constitution.

In the countdown to the Dec. 12 elections, voter apathy is shaping up to be the most fearsome enemy Yeltsin faces. He and his advisers have set 50 percent as the voter turnout necessary for the referendum to be valid - and this figure may well be too high.

Last April, in the referendum on Yeltsin's presidency, 64. 6 percent of Russia's 107 million registered voters went to the polls. That was in the spring, when the weather was fine and the days long, and before the stormy season of political turmoil that the country experienced this autumn.

Now, in the darkening days of December, the political climate feels ever bleaker. and if the weather itself does not discourage people from casting their ballots, this sluggish, lackluster, narrow-minded campaign may well do the job.

Part of the blame lies with the distorted way television has handled the election so far. The news has only skimmed the surface of the campaign, presumably for fear of being attacked as partisan. Outside the news, the format of giving each party a block of time to present its views is hardly riveting and has alienated many voters.

What is Yeltsin doing about this? Largely out of sight since campaigning started, he headed for the North Caucasus on Monday to lobby among a fringe section of the population for whom civil war, and not the coming vote, tops the agenda. No sooner will he return than he will fly off to Brussels for a visit with more form than content.

Perhaps the travels will gain Yeltsin television time on the eve of the poll. But is this reason enough to stay away from the Kremlin when his closest aides - men like Yegor Gaidar, Vladimir Shumeiko and Gennady Burbulis - are wrangling or, worse, distancing themselves from the president?

Yeltsin has done little to promote the constitution he designed with such difficulty. In the week before the election, the president should be at home, convincing his countrymen that Russia's future needs their votes.