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Liberals Line Up Behind Yavlinsky
By Lynn Berry, Staff Writer
Moscow Times
Thursday, March 23, 2000

In a lightening quick change on the political scene just days before the presidential election, leading liberals from the Union of Right Forces jumped on the bandwagon of candidate Grigory Yavlinsky late Wednesday.

It was unclear whether the budding alliance appeared spontaneously or was planned ahead of time, or whether it would be enough to make any difference in the election that acting President Vladimir Putin has appeared to have wrapped up.

Boris Nemtsov, Irina Khakamada, Anatoly Chubais and Yegor Gaidar said they were interested in forming a coalition with Yavlinsky, Interfax reported, citing Khakamada.

Nemtsov went further and said the Union of Right Forces, known as SPS, should actively campaign for Yavlinsky. "Today I am flying out to Tomsk and Khakamada is flying to Yekaterinburg," Nemtsov told Interfax.

He said they should do everything possible to bring out the vote for Yavlinsky in Sunday's election with the goal of getting him into a second-round runoff against Putin. "The appearance of Yavlinsky in a second round is undoubtedly a step forward, a guarantee that the country will follow a democratic path," Nemtsov was quoted as saying.

National opinion polls have Yavlinsky running third behind Putin and Communist Gennady Zyuganov.

Yavlinsky got his first boost late Tuesday night when liberal candidate Yevgeny Savostyanov withdrew from the race and urged his supporters to vote for the Yabloko leader.

Yavlinsky won the SPS endorsement with his offer at a news conference Wednesday evening to create, after the election, "a powerful democratic coalition that will resist the creeping spread of absolutist, totalitarian and criminal trends in Russian society."

The key seemed to be his statement that he would not insist on being the coalition's sole leader.

"Whatever the results of the elections, I am ready to take part in a broad right-wing liberal coalition with the participation of Yabloko, Union of Right Forces and other [democratic forces]," Yavlinsky said. "At the same time, I don't claim single-handed leadership of this coalition."

Yavlinsky has in the past been unwilling to compromise or take part in democratic alliances that would not be under his leadership. He has particularly avoided Chubais and Gaidar, seeing them as tainted by their involvement in past governments.

"It is very important that Grigory Alexeyevich [Yavlinsky] isn't staking a claim on the role of single leader of the future coalition, which SPS and Yabloko are ready to form," Nemtsov was quoted as saying.

The rallying of democratic forces may also reflect growing opposition to Putin. In his news conference Yavlinsky called the acting president "a hidden communist who conducts his policy by Soviet means" and said he posed a "real danger to Russian democracy."

The leader of the Union of Right Forces, Sergei Kiriyenko, who has backed Putin, said he was skeptical of Yavlinsky's offer.

While Kiriyenko said the creation of a broad right-wing coalition was necessary for forming an effective political system in Russia, Yavlinsky's proposal smacked of campaign politics.

"Campaign populism is one thing but real party building is something else entirely," Kiriyenko said, Interfax reported. Any serious discussion of forming a coalition should wait until after the election, he said.

A split in SPS ranks has appeared since the bloc voted last week to support Putin's election campaign. Nemtsov, Khakamada and Gaidar abstained.

Savostyanov's decision to withdraw from the race came at the end of NTV television's "Vox Populi" talk show, broadcasted live, with Savastyanov, Yavlinsky and Samara region Governor Konstantin Titov as guests. Titov, a member of SPS, also is running for president.

At 11:47 p.m. Tuesday- just 13 minutes before the midnight deadline for official withdrawal from the race - Savostyanov signed a letter to the Central Election Committee saying he will not participate in Sunday's elections.

During the show, Khakamada said Russia's democrats should chose a single leader "for the sake of the democratic movement's future." She was supported by 76 percent of the show's audience, who voted to support a single democratic candidate.

"This is a realistic decision," Savostyanov said as he signed the withdrawal statement he had prepared before the show. The statement was faxed to the CEC immediately from the NTV office.

The election committee agreed Wednesday to annul his registration. Each candidate received 400,000 ($14,000) in campaign funds from the CEC, and Savostyanov will have to return the money no later than 30 days after the election, CEC officials said.

Recent national polls have showed both Savostyanov and Titov likely to receive less than 2 percent of the vote.

As Savostyanov was leaving Central Election Commission headquarters Wednesday, he said: "If all democratic forces unite, I think it is possible that Yavlinsky will overtake Zyuganov and make it to the second round."

Yavlinsky on Wednesday hailed Sevastyanov's decision as "the beginning of the consolidation of Russia's democratic forces."

Savostyanov tried Tuesday night to persuade Titov to pull out of the race, but Titov refused, claiming he couldn't "ditch his supporters" and had to consult with his colleagues at SPS before making a decision.

When someone from the audience suggested that Titov call SPS, Titov promptly replied: "It is inappropriate to make telephone calls after 10 p.m."

Another person from the audience said to Titov: "You said you are afraid to ditch your supporters, but you are about to ditch the entire nation" by refusing to withdraw from the race.

Yavlinsky refrained from criticizing Titov. He said he "understands" his position as governor.

Yavlinsky also rejected suggestions that the withdrawal of Sevastianov's candidacy had been planned from the outset of the campaign.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky said Tuesday he might bow out of the election and throw his support behind Yavlinsky or Zyuganov. But he did not do so by the midnight deadline.

- Anna Badkhen and Andrei Zolotov Jr. contributed to this report.


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