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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Communists Form Broad Left Front for Campaign

Shortly after dismissing President Boris Yeltsin as a "weak" rival Thursday, Gennady Zyuganov was named the presidential candidate of a broad alliance of leftist forces, led by the Communist Party of the Russian Federation.

"I thank you for your confidence in me," Zyuganov told the Communist Party conference which nominated him. "But the job of president of Russia is such now that a crown of thorns is more likely to await the winner than a crown of laurels."

Zyuganov is well ahead in the opinion polls for June's presidential vote, but to counter Yeltsin's appeal to anti-communist voters that they must unite behind him or face a return to the past, half-a-dozen pro-communist presidential hopefuls threw their in lot with Zyuganov.

"Fifteen million people voted for us last December and we need another 15 million," Zyuganov told reporters. "Now we have talked to those who have another 10 million and they seem to view a union favorably."

Thursday's show of unity followed a month of negotiations that involved offers by Zyuganov of cabinet posts to those leftist leaders who agreed to withdraw in his favor.

Participants in the bloc range from the extreme left Workers' Russia group to the centrist Agrarian Party and With the exception of Baburin, all these socialist and communist leaders have been nominated for the presidency, but at Thursday's conference they announced they would back Zyuganov.

Only Tuleyev, the popular head of the local legislature in the mining region of Kemerovo, will get the party's support for his presidential bid, which the Communist leaders see as a kind of support act for Zyuganov's campaign.

"He is willing to remove his candidacy from the ballot if need be, and if Zyuganov wins, Tuleyev can be viewed as a candidate for a top government job," Kuptsov said.

For his part, Tuleyev, who ran against Yeltsin in the 1991 election and came in fifth in a field of six, said his bid would be useful for the party because of his popularity in mining areas and his appeal to non-ethnic-Russian voters.

"I will have the guts to pull out if I have to," said Tuleyev, who is not a Communist Party member but was third on the party's list for the December parliamentary election.

"He will serve as an alternative for those voters who are not prepared to vote for a Communist," said Yury Terentyev, leader of the radical Russian Communist Workers Party, which has also joined the Zyuganov bloc.

The other possible leftist contenders opted for unity. "We must wait until after June 16 to settle our differences," Ryzhkov told the Communist Party conference which nominated Zyuganov. "Meanwhile, we must forget about them. This election is our last chance: If we lose it, Russia will remain the way it is now for more than just five years, maybe even forever."

Zyuganov echoed that apocalyptic line in an interview with Reuters, saying that a second Yeltsin term "would mean the further destruction of our country."

Kuptsov said the leftist leaders were offered places in Zyuganov's shadow cabinet if they resigned from the presidential race. Zyuganov was expected to name the shadow cabinet members Thursday, but he did not do so.

After accepting his nomination, Zyuganov outlined his electoral program, promising to increase the financing of social programs, scientific projects and the military. "Saying that the government has no money for that is just irresponsible talk," he said. "It means that the entire financial policy of the current government is worthless."

However, he did not elaborate on what policies he intends to pursue.

Senior Communists said they formed the coalition to broaden the party's voter appeal, which they see as insufficient for a decisive first-round victory. And it is a first-round win that the bloc is after, Kuptsov said: The Communists fear the Yeltsin administration may rig or cancel the run-off vote that must take place within 30 days of June 16 if no candidate gets more than 50 percent in the first round.