Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Zyuganov Seeks Big Numbers From Small Backers

Every week with great ceremony, dozens of people gather in the Duma offices of the Communist Party to sign a pact pledging support for Gennady Zyuganov's presidential dreams. For the rest of the week, Zyuganov proudly touts it as proof of mushrooming support.

"Already 150 parties and movements have signed documents of support for the People's Patriotic Bloc," he said this week.

Though dominated by the Communist Party, the bloc has united various forces behind Zyuganov, from the radical leftists of Viktor Anpilov's Working Russia to the nationalists of former vice president Alexander Rutskoi's Derzhava movement.

A closer look, however, reveals most of those 150 "parties and movements" are neither large nor independent.

Names among 34 youth groups that signed last week suggest implicit existing ties to the campaign. Who else, for example, might the Social Committee Youth for Zyuganov choose to support? Others included the Youth Sector of the Moscow Branch of the Communist Party, the Social-Political Initiative Youth for Zyuganov and the All-Union Leninist Communist Youth Union.

"He's a mathematician by education, and he loves big-sounding numbers," said Alexander Golovenko of the pro-communist daily Pravda, who is regarded as a maverick for his willingness to criticize Zyuganov.

"He likes to see them growing: 50 organizations, 60 organizations, 70," Golovenko said. "But ask him how many people stand behind them? These are small groups. They have no organization, no regional offices, no money."

"These are dwarf groups," agreed Viktor Kremenyuk of the USA/Canada Institute. "They exist no more than on paper. Zyuganov needs a certificate of overall people's support, and in the best communist fashion, he's out hunting for numbers."

No one disputes Zyuganov has built a powerful coalition going into June's elections. He has the backing not only of the Communist Party, Working Russia and Derzhava, but also of the Agrarian Party and the Power to the People party of former Soviet prime minister Nikolai Ryzhkov -- parties that together won 34.79 percent of the vote in December's Duma elections, representing 24 million people.

At a news conference Friday, Zyuganov said he had 22 million to 25 million votes in the bag already, and needed just 7 million or 8 million more to win outright in June.

Vladimir Andreyenkov of the CESSI polling group questioned that reasoning.

"The rules don't work in millions, they work in percentages," he said. "It sounds like a solid number, 25 million, but who knows what percent it will be? Or what percent others will get?"

Zyuganov also has the support of leftist-nationalists like politician Sergei Baburin and writer Valentin Rasputin. But most of the big organizations plumped for Zyuganov some time ago, noted Yury Korgunyuk of INDEM: The Center for Applied Political Studies. "The rest is small change," he said.

Zyuganov has focused on winning over nationalists and leftists, a tactic on which there are as many opinions as there are think tanks.

Kremenyuk of the USA/Canada Institute called it "the great mistake of the communist bloc. Instead of working to look more moderate, more middle-of-the-road, they are courting Anpilov and the radicals."

Nikolai Petrov of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said Zyuganov's tactics were sound and could be adjusted in a run-off election between June's top two vote-getters. "I think it is pretty good to rely on your stable electorate to get through the first round of voting, and then try to bring in the social democratic vote," he said.

Zyuganov is not alone in his love for seemingly big numbers. Sergei Filatov, a leading official of President Boris Yeltsin's campaign, spoke of "emotional incandescence" at a congress last weekend for the Russian National Movement of Public Support for Boris Yeltsin. It was attended, he hastened to add, by 1,040 delegates, and the movement has been backed by 279 organizations.

Alexander Shabanov, Zyuganov's deputy and the Communist Party's ideology chief, said those were empty boasts.

"Whereas we have had about 150 personalities and organizations sign up, yesterday Filatov announced something like 279 backing Yeltsin -- some crazy number like that. But they are mostly parties consisting of a single leader, while this [Communist coalition] is much broader," Shabanov said.

"These are real people, who realistically see Zyuganov as the only candidate. This isn't just a decoration," Shabanov said, tapping his finger on the youth pact signed last week.