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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Chooses Yeltsin by 15%

President Boris Yeltsin took a firm lead of some 15 percent over his Communist opponent Gennady Zyuganov in preliminary results of the presidential runoff released early Thursday, as voters across the country endorsed his bid for a further four years in office.

With two-thirds of the vote counted, figures released by the Central Election Commission showed Yeltsin well ahead with 54.55 percent of the vote to 39.44 percent for Zyuganov. About 5 percent of the electorate voted against both candidates.

Commission officials said they did not expect the overall picture to change significantly.

The victory represents a tremendous comeback for Yeltsin, 65, whose political career had been written off by many observers late last year after he suffered two heart attacks and the Communist Party swept to victory in parliamentary elections.

It also removes a giant question mark that has hung over Russia for the past six months, delaying investment decisions, prompting companies to postpone payment of taxes and generally introducing uncertainty over the future course of the economy.

But even with a mandate for continued reform, Yeltsin will face enormous problems in his second term, starting with an economic squeeze expected in the fall that will have been caused in part by his spendthrift election campaign.

Questions also remain over how Yeltsin will interpret his mandate, whether he will form a coalition government and what role retired general Alexander Lebed will play in forming policy.

The president did not appear in public to celebrate his victory early Thursday morning. Health concerns sparked by Yeltsin's disappearance during the final days of the election campaign were exacerbated when he failed to appear to vote at his scheduled polling station, casting his ballot instead near his dacha in the village of Barvikha.

Zyuganov also did not appear in public after voting Wednesday morning. But Communist Party officials accepted defeat with relative calm soon after the first returns were published, putting the best candidate of the national-patriotic bloc that qualified for the second round," he told Interfax, adding that he expected the margin of Yeltsin's lead to shrink to 3 to 5 percent when results are complete.

Turnout -- a factor that analysts predicted could seriously affect the outcome -- was estimated by commission officials at over 64 percent, only five points down from the first round. That suggested that the Yeltsin team's "Get Out the Vote" campaign, plus its ploy to hold the election in mid-week to avoid the dacha exodus, had paid off. Analysts had said anything below 60 percent could have jeopardized his chances.

But the indications were that the main factor in Yeltsin's favor was the support he received from voters who had backed other candidates eliminated in the first round. The Communists, meanwhile, had failed to build on their traditional support.

In Bryansk region, in the heart of the Communist-dominated "Red Belt" across southern Russia, Yeltsin had built his first round vote of 26 percent to 40 percent, while Zyuganov, who took 50 percent in the first round, remained more or less stable at 51 percent.

The Bryansk result reflected a pattern across the country, showing Yeltsin taking the lion's share of the vote from the eliminated candidates.

In the Far East, Yeltsin increased the lead he had built June 16. In Moscow and St. Petersburg he won by a landslide, capturing approximately 77 percent of the vote to Zyuganov's 18 percent in the capital, and 74 percent to 21 percent in St. Petersburg.

The main question ahead of Wednesday's vote had been which way the 11 million voters who backed Lebed in the first round would vote in the second.

In an effort to harness these voters' support, Yeltsin appointed Lebed secretary of his Security Council and national security adviser immediately after the round one vote, granting the tough-talking general sweeping powers to fight corruption and restore law and order.

According to Dmitry Oreshkin, chief analyst of the Central Election Commission, this tactic seemed to have worked:

"We can see that Yeltsin received most of the votes from [Yabloko leader Grigory] Yavlinsky and the greater part of Lebed's, while more of [ultranationalist Vladimir] Zhirinovsky's voters went to Zyuganov," he said.

With a clear indication of the final outcome evident from the first results, the count proved an anti-climax, with some already looking ahead to Yeltsin's next task, namely to have a prime minister endorsed by the State Duma.

"First of all he has to find a qualified, authoritative candidate who could be approved by the Duma," said Yelena Mizulina of Yavlinsky's Yabloko faction. "The candidate he chooses and how he makes his choice will reflect what he has learned from this election campaign, whether he has listened to the voice of the people."

Yeltsin has said he would ask Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin -- who must automatically resign with his cabinet -- to choose a new government within two weeks.

Yeltsin's disappearance from public eye in the past week, in sharp contrast to his active and energetic campaigning for the first round, appeared to have had little effect on the voters, few of whom were likely to have been aware of the rumors circulating about the president's health, which were scarcely reported in the pro-Yeltsin media.

But analysts said the health issue could place a blight on Yeltsin's victory.

"He must have had something much more than a cold to miss the victory day of his whole career," said Michael McFaul of the Moscow Center of the Carnegie Endowment. "He is clearly an ill man."