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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

For Listless Zyuganov, Too Little, Too Late?

Gennady Zyuganov's decision Monday to offer voters a coalition government makes sense as a last-minute effort to attract moderate, non-communist voters, and although it may be too late, Zyuganov's team claims to have high hopes for this strategy.


But Zyuganov's terse proposal to create a State Council at the same time is harder to figure -- the more so since the usually loquacious communist leader took no questions Monday and left after reading a prepared statement.


But Zyuganov has a record of vague talk about "state councils" and the idea reflects Zyuganov's sincere belief -- one shared by many Communist Party members -- that Russia should be ruled not by a tsar or president but by a collective.


First the coalition government: Zyuganov has offered posts to many politicians loyal to President Boris Yeltsin, including Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, who met Zyuganov for 90 minutes Monday. Most of the politicians Zyuganov has mentioned immediately reject him as a suitor, as did Luzhkov, who told Itar-Tass he was not interested in being anything other than mayor.


Yet the point is not how Luzhkov or others respond to such overtures, but what Zyuganov says to voters by making them. "This is an effort to show everyone how open-minded Zyuganov is," said Viktor Kremenyuk of the USA/ Canada Institute. "It's not important what [the courted] say, it's important that Zyuganov has shown voters how flexible he is."


However, it may be too little too late. Many analysts have argued that Zyuganov should have courted moderate voters by describing himself as a social democrat of the sort found in Sweden or the resurgent Eastern European communist movements: someone who stands for the little man while rejecting the uglier moments of Soviet history.


Instead, Zyuganov has gone out of his way to woo hardliners by taking on board Viktor Anpilov of the radical fringe Working Russia movement, and has been ambivalent when asked about Stalin and other low points of the Soviet experience.


Sergei Markov, a senior analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said offering a mainstream coalition government was a vote-getter of an idea, but that Zyuganov "should have done this months ago, at the outset. Now, no one will hear of it."


The State Council, Zyuganov's other offering Monday, is harder to explain away as an elections tactic. It is not a new idea: It has long been pushed by a top Zyuganov lieutenant, Alexei Podberyozkin, a nationalist who heads the Spiritual Heritage movement.


Podberyozkin has described the State Council as "the distributive branch" of government, meaning the branch that tells the others what to do. Last week he said Zyuganov had all but signed on to the idea. He sees it as a group of elites who will run the country.


So, apparently, does Zyuganov. The State Council he described would include representatives from virtually every major organization or group in Russia -- from the Duma and the government to Cossacks, Moslems, Buddhists and youth. It would set basic policy for the government and president to follow.


"I believe that this is a sincere proposal. This is how Zyuganov sees the world," Markov said. "He believes there should be collegial rule, rule that includes all different strata of society, and that this is democracy."


It is unlikely to matter. Zyuganov's campaign seems stalled, the polls are against him and unless he is favored by a low turnout -- his voters are more dutiful than Yeltsin's -- it does not seem he will be in a position to realize his vision.


With just nine days to go, Zyuganov is rarely seen. His first television ads of the entire campaign should begin airing only Wednesday. He will not leave Moscow before the vote, relegating the footwork of campaigning in the regions to his party activists -- and to Yeltsin.


Yeltsin, meanwhile, has hired the No. 3 vote-getter in June's elections, Alexander Lebed, fired unpopular officials and garnered reluctant endorsements from the other June vote-getters, Grigory Yavlinsky and Vladimir Zhirinovsky.


Zyuganov's passivity has some pushing the idea that he has already given up. For Andrei Piontkowsky of Moscow's Center for Strategic Studies, Monday's announcement was proof of that.


"This is [Zyuganov's] recognition that he will lose," Piontkowsky said. There is nothing left for Zyuganov but to talk of conciliation and accord, and hope Yeltsin offers his team a part of the pie after his victory, he added.