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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yavlinsky: Low Profile but High Ratings

VORONEZH, Southern Russia - He is best known for an economic plan that was never implemented and he rarely gets on television - yet Grigory Yavlinsky is without doubt one of Russia's most poplar politicians.

During a campaign swing through this city of factory workers and students ending Friday, Yavlinsky, who heads the Yavlinsky-Boldyrev-Lukin political bloc, earned praise from many voters for what they saw as an honest, fresh style.

"He's a smart man, he understands the economy and speaks his mind", said Ivan Petrov, 76, a retiree who saw Yavlinsky speak Thursday evening. "I'd be glad if he becomes president".

Added Vladimir Sevostanov, a television factory official: "He is a normal person without complexes; the old system didn't allow politicians to be real people".

Such praise has translated into impressive opinion poll ratings ahead of the Dec. 12 elections for Yavlinsky's party, which is widely seen as an alternative market oriented group to the pro-government Russia's Choice.

A Nov. 19-21 survey for the newspaper Argumenty i Fakty said, for example, that 42 percent of the population favorably regard Yavlinsky, compared to 27 percent for St. Petersburg Mayor Anatoly Sobchak and 23 percent for Deputy Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar.

Several other recent polls also show Yavlinsky - a Ukrainian-reared Russian most famous for co-authoring the rejected "500 Days" and "Grand Bargain" plans to reform the U. S. S. R. - topping the political charts.

This is despite a recent survey of election coverage in the first two weeks of the campaign, which showed that Yavlinsky appeared on state television for only 10 seconds, compared to over 28 minutes for Gaidar.

A large part of Yavlinsky's success lies in his ability to connect with his audience, something that Gaidar sorely lacks.

Both men are young - Yavlinsky is 41 and Gaidar 37. Both speak fluent English and are well-versed in Western economic theories. But Gaidar has become famous for speaking fast on technical subjects, leaving many of his audiences befuddled.

Like a boxer, Yavlinsky emerges cautiously and probes the crowd, only warming up for the second round.

"In the first 20 minutes", he said in an interview, "I am exploring the audience".

Having tuned into their wave length, he simplifies complex subjects into easily digested themes.

"If you know something, it's always possible to explain it in words that are understandable even to small children", said Yavlinsky.

For example, when addressing a mostly elderly crowd of 150 people here, Yavlinsky praised Russian chocolates and said import tariffs could save them against unfair foreign competition at the kiosks.

Yavlinsky also differs from Gaidar by advocating a more gradual path to the free market, with more government regulation during the transition period, which he estimates at 5-8 years.

He criticized Gaidar for freeing prices and privatizing the country's industrial base before breaking up the old state monopolies. That should have been done first, he said, to produce the competition vital to a free market.

To the crowd, Yavlinsky projected patience and earnestness, using ample humor to disarm possible opponents.

"I'm preparing the audience for serious things", he said. "First, I say one or two jokes, and then when the audience is prepared, I say I am in favor of capitalism".

Sometimes he stretches the truth. In one favorite tale, Yavlinsky implied that he was ejected from his office opposite the White House by pro-Nazi rebels during fighting on Oct. 3. In fact, he was at home following events by telephone as several aides, along with a The Moscow Times reporter, were forced out.

He also spoke about reform in Nizhny Novgorod, a model city for economic reform where he serves as an adviser, as if he was the governor there.

Occasionally, the audience rejects his style. When he said that he helped introduce a Nizhny Novgorod plan in which young vendors lowered prices by flooding the market with potatoes, a man yelled: "Don't tell us any fairy tales! "

Yet it is the simplicity of his descriptions that appeals to many who yearn for order on the path to a free market.

"In the early days of reform things were more defined, we knew that by a certain period of time we would reach this and that", said Volodya Yegorov, 33, a worker in a factory Yavlinsky visited.

A few voters, like Nonna Osovetskaya, 50, disliked Yavlinsky's criticism of President Boris Yeltsin's proposed constitution. Others said Yavlinsky's lack of practical results - his "500 Days" program was rejected by Mikhail Gorbachev - is a strike against him.