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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Campaigns Choose Images Over Issues




A row of Soviet and Russian leaders flash one after the other on the TV screen: Stalin, Brezhnev, Luzhkov, Primakov. ? "Yesterday, it was them," a cheerful voice says. "Tomorrow, the young ones are coming!"


It's an ad for the Union of Right Forces, and in an instant the "young" faces appear: Sergei Kiriyenko, Boris Nemtsov and Irina Khakamada. It's more image than issues f but then, the whole campaign has been like that.


Russian politics are highly personal, and what is known in the West as "campaign issues" not only fails to be translated into Russian, but has been relegated to the background of the campaign. So, for the right-wing bloc, it is the youth appeal of its leaders f presumably signifying change f and not its largely discredited economic reform policies that is put up front.


Instead of issues, it's been rhetoric and accusations of corruption, known as kompromat, that have taken center stage. "Programs are discussed by candidates the least," said Alexei Podberyozkin, leader of the Spiritual Heritage, a moderate nationalist bloc. "And what they talk about the most is the blows of kompromat."


Analysts say that one reason issues have taken a backseat is that parties' programs often don't differ very much.


For instance, there is little debate on the war in Chechnya, because all major groups support it, though one or two have reservations about the way the war has been conducted. And everyone is against corruption f one excuse to sling more kompromat.


Even on economics, analysts have noted a general moving closer together. They say the Russian electorate has gained experience with market economics over the past few years and consequently the economic parts of the parties' electoral platforms have moved considerably from the left to the right.


"There is a very high degree of consensus in the society," said Igor Bunin, director of the Institute of Political Technologies. "The watersheds that emerge among politicians are quite artificial."


In a recent report, analysts at the Carnegie Moscow Center spoke of "convergence:"


"There is practically no [election] agenda as such, because in regard to Chechnya, security and relations with the West, which are currently the focus of public attention, society is quite consolidated and the positions of the political parties are hardly distinguishable."


One of the most striking differences between the current and previous State Duma campaigns is the degree to which Gennady Zyuganov's Communists have moved their economic platform toward the center, making it almost identical with that of Fatherland-All Russia of Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkovand former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov.


With more than 50 percent o f Russians polled saying they are most concerned with the growth in prices, neither the Communists nor the bloc of Vladimir Zhirinovsky put forward the inflationary platforms they did in 1995.


The KPRF has dropped its 1995 pledges to renationalize "strategic" industries and re-introduce a Soviet-style planned economy. Today, Zyuganov says that only "illegally" obtained properties must be "returned" to the people.


And while earlier this year Luzhkov often criticized the results of privatization, today the leaders of Fatherland-All Russia, particularly Primakov, say that no reallocation should take place. Speaking Tuesday to the Union of Russian Industrialists, Primakov said that reconsideration of privatizations could cause "bloodshed."


There is still a difference between the left of center consensus and the liberal parties f Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces, who put the sanctity of private property on their banners f said Mikhail Dmitriev, who researched economic platforms at the Carnegie Moscow Center.


But all parties, including the Communists, promise lower taxes, oppose inflationary measures and espouse more moderate talk about government investment than they did during the previous electoral campaign.


Dmitriev wrote in his report that the electorate has moved considerably toward the right compared to 1995 and that the Communists have gone from an "utterly populist and firmly anti-market" position into "moderately market-oriented and much more realistic" outlook.