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

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Populist Spending Tops Candidates' Poll Vows

Despite the differences between the electoral platforms unveiled last week by the top four contenders in June's presidential contest, one common feature stands out: They all offer more spending on social programs.

Indeed, the platforms of President Boris Yeltsin, Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky and retired general Alexander Lebed are all testimony to how well Russian politicians have learned to make generous promises rather than deal with harsh realities.

"What strikes me about the platforms are their similarity," said Viktor Kremenyuk, deputy director of the USA/Canada Institute. "They are similar because the problems for the voters are the same. They want more money, they want lower prices, they want some guarantee against unemployment, they want something to be done against crime. All the candidates know it, and there is only one way of saying it: Yes, you will get more money; yes, prices will be lower," he said.

The emphases in each platform are, of course, different. On economics, Zyuganov's, not surprisingly, leans furthest to the left. For instance, it advocates nationalizing the alcohol industry to fund its wide-ranging social programs. Yeltsin's maintains the sanctity of private property.

On the structure of power, Yavlinsky stresses the need for more decentralization of power to the regions and localities, while the president advocates continued "strong presidential authority," at least in the near term.

And while Zyuganov and Yeltsin are against independence for rebellious Chechnya in the name of preserving a strong Russia, Lebed and Yavlinsky advocate a referendum by which the Chechens can decide their own future.

But the great theme of all the programs is their treatment of social welfare. And each has its own special version of how best to distribute the largess.

Yavlinsky promises that the percentage of budget funds devoted to social policy, education, health care, science, culture and art in the next two years will be raised to 15 percent, from its current level of less than 12 percent.

The Yabloko leader would set wages and pensions at no less than two-thirds the minimum subsistence level and gradually triple the minimum wage, double state salaries, pensions and stipends, and hike allowances for children by five times.

Yavlinsky is clearly targeting teachers, scientists, policemen, soldiers and other government workers who have seen their living standards drop since 1992. They will also get benefits for housing and pre-school education.

Yeltsin's program -- at 126 pages, the most detailed of the lot -- starts with what it sees as its main achievement: the reduction in inflation. However while celebrating the relief for citizens due to "the halt of the insane rise in prices," Yeltsin's program recognizes the social cost of "financial stabilization" and lays out a host of social benefits.

Yeltsin joins Yavlinsky in offering gradual rises in income for the poor, increases in minimum pensions and salaries, federal money for benefits to the poor, a program to compensate for savings lost to inflation since 1991, indexation of pensions and average salaries for inflation.

It also throws in state housing credits, subsidies for family health care and an employment program based on offering employers incentives to create new jobs and a better social welfare net for the unemployed.

Gennady Zyuganov was especially generous in an earlier version of his program issued in March. He promised electors the unconditional rights of "labor, rest, housing, free education and medical service and a dignified old age," as well as salaries, pensions, stipends and allowances that conform with "the real minimum subsistence wage."

But there are signs he may have toned his promises down. For instance, Zyuganov's March platform also gave a blanket endorsement for compensating savers for losses due to inflation, but a new version of the program unveiled last week, was more cautious, referring only to "selective indexation" of savings.

Lebed's program is shortest on details in the social sphere, calling for "special support" for families, including a system of state credits, a state fund for the handicapped and state-subsidized funerals. It condemns the state for robbing citizens of their savings over the last five years, but adds: "It is still worse to irresponsibly promise to compensate for the losses when there are no real funds for it." The program suggests that lost deposits can be partially compensated with land or long-term credits for housing construction.

Lebed's platform also stresses the fight against crime and corruption, which is probably the other big common theme among the candidates.

While all four candidates detail various ways of raising money to fund their social programs, it is not clear they will be able to deliver should they win. They may, therefore, be hoping their programs are not scrutinized too closely.

"What strikes me most of all about [the platforms]," said Kremenyuk "is that they were all published very late, and virtually at the same time, as if there was a consensus among the candidates that it's better not to give the voters the possibility to read them thoroughly."