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

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tula Votes for Favorite Son Lebed, Via Yeltsin

TULA, Central Russia -- Tula, about a two-hour drive south of Moscow, was exactly the type of region President Boris Yeltsin's election team had in mind on June 18 when they made Alexander Lebed Russia's national security chief.

Two days earlier, in the initial round of voting for Russia's head of state, the retired general had tied Yeltsin for first place in the combined vote totals for the city and its adjoining oblast.

Lebed's strong showing here was no accident. He is a hometown hero, the man who for six years commanded the Tula Airborne Division.

And judging from the initial results from Wednesday's voting, the strategy worked, with Yeltsin taking a comfortable lead over Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov. But it was a nailbiting day at both the Yeltsin and Lebed campaign headquarters, which had been working together in Tula since Lebed joined the government.

It was a particularly rough day for Tamaravana Yurishcheva, who runs Lebed's Tula campaign headquarters and was worried about low voter turnout. Throughout the afternoon the news was bad: At 11 a.m., the percentage of voters who had visited the polls was only half of what it had been at the same time June 16; by mid-afternoon, the turnout was still less than 40 percent.

The head of the local election commission, Tula's mayor and the regional governor were so worried they went on regional television one after the other to ask people to get out and vote.

But by midnight Yurishcheva was happier.

"In general, it looks like Yeltsin is winning everywhere," she said. "Here in Tula, Zyuganov has apparently won in a few precincts -- three, it seems -- but Yeltsin has won in the rest. ... I think that the majority of our voters, those who voted for Lebed in the first round, voted for Yeltsin."

On the eve of the election, Alexander Yermakov, editor in chief of the pro-Yeltsin newspaper Tulskiye Izvestia, had said that while Tula was not a pro-Yeltsin region, its anti-communism exceeded its antipathy toward the incumbent president. Zyuganov lost here in the first round, and the Communist Party was defeated by Lebed's Congress of Russian Communities in last December's parliamentary elections.

"Yeltsin would probably win in Tula even if Lebed did not have such a strong position here," he said, adding that the president had the support of the local authorities as well as the directors of military-related factories which had successfully converted to civilian production.Lebed had become virtually a cult figure in Tula, meaning that voters would follow him rather than any particular policies.

"His popularity is huge. It's a matter of charisma," said Yermakov. "Many people don't care about Lebed's political credo. It's simply Lebed as a personality -- that's enough for them. So I think a majority of Lebed's votes will go to Yeltsin, not Zyuganov."

The Yeltsin and Lebed headquarters jointly carried out a survey around the region last weekend, and found that 50 percent of those who cast their ballots for Lebed in the first round would vote for Yeltsin, 30 percent would choose Zyuganov, and the rest would either vote against both candidates or boycott the election.

But if Wednesday's presidential vote was nothing less than a choice between the future and past, as both Lebed himself and Yeltsin's campaign team portrayed it, during the afternoon there seemed to be little sense of urgency among Tula's voters.

Many local residents took advantage of the warm weather and the official holiday to hit the city's various open-air markets and stores. Others, it is now clear, were at home watching the special back-to-back showings of the Brazilian soap "Tropikanka" on television.