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The Moscow Times, December 29, 2003

Zyuganov, Zhirinovsky Won't Run for President

By Oksana Yablokova

Two staples of all post-Soviet presidential elections -- Communist Party chief Gennady Zyuganov and ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky -- have decided at party congresses not to run in the March election.

With Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky, the other candidate in all post-Soviet elections, already out of the way, President Vladimir Putin faces no serious challengers in the March 14 vote and is on course to secure a resounding victory, political analysts said.

The Communists picked Agrarian Nikolai Kharitonov, 55, as their presidential candidate at their congress Sunday, while LDPR chose Oleg Malyshkin, a 50-year-old former boxer and a political unknown, as its candidate Friday.

Zyuganov refused to run after the Communists suffered disappointing losses in this month's State Duma elections, securing only 12.61 percent of the vote, and he is thought to have put forward Kharitonov's candidacy.

"I thinks it is a complete collapse of the Communist party, its ideology. It is a total fiasco," said Lyubov Sliska, a deputy speaker in the previous Duma who was re-elected on the pro-Kremlin United Russia party list.

Kharitonov beat out wealthy businessman Gennady Semigin, a candidate supported by Zyuganov's deputy Valentin Kuptsov, in the congress vote Sunday. Two other Communists were shortlisted for the nomination -- former cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskya and former prosecutor Viktor Ilyukhin -- but they withdrew before the vote in favor of Kharitonov.

Zyuganov earlier supported the candidacy of former Krasnodar Governor Nikolai Kondratenko, but Kondratenko, who is well-known for making anti-Semitic remarks, refused to run, citing health problems.

Vladimir Pribylovsky, political analyst with the Panorama think tank, said Kharitonov's candidacy was a compromise aimed at keeping the party's traditional electorate from leaving for other parties.

"The Communists were forced to pick someone or they risked losing their electorate to someone else, to Glazyev, for example," he said, referring to Sergei Glazyev, the co-leader of the recently formed nationalist Rodina bloc.

Pribylovsky said keeping the voters also was important because the Communists would need their support if they decide to later call for a boycott of the presidential election. He said Kharitonov might register as a candidate and then, closer to the vote, abruptly pull out and call for a boycott on the grounds that his rights as a candidate had been violated.

Rodina co-leader Dmitry Rogozin predicted that Kharitonov's nomination for presidency would lead to "the complete degradation and marginalization of the Communist Party." He said Zyuganov got so carried away by a power struggle inside the party that he did not find time to pick a worthy candidate.

Irina Khakamada, a leader of the Union of Right Forces, said Kharitnov was not really in opposition to the Kremlin as in the previous Duma his Agrarians often voted for pro-Kremlin bills.

Zhirinovsky on Friday gave little reason for his decision not to run in the election. The day after the Dec. 7 Duma elections -- when preliminary results showed that LDPR had done astoundingly well, taking 11.45 percent of the vote -- Zhirinovsky announced that he would run for the presidency next year.

"I will intentionally avoid taking part in the presidential election personally, but I will persistently promote LDPR's program and campaign for our candidate," Zhirinovsky said Friday.

LDPR's appeal to disgruntled voters lies squarely with Zhirinovsky's personal performance and charisma, and recent opinion polls indicate that he could have won about 5 percent in the presidential election.

Despite being in the political opposition, LDPR has always backed the Kremlin in the Duma.

Yavlinsky decided at a Yabloko congress a week ago not to run for president.

Putin's application to seek re-election was filed with the Central Election Commission last Wednesday.

Nikolai Petrov, a political analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center, said the lack of familiar faces in the presidential race is an indication of how the political landscape has been reshaped over the four years of Putin's presidency. Now, he said, it is all but impossible for opposition parties to take part in any elections.

At the same time, an election in which Putin has to run against "extras" is not very favorable for him, either, Petrov said.

"The outcome of the 2000 presidential election also was clear long before the election took place, but in that race Putin won over weaker candidates who were still the strongest challengers out there," Petrov said.

"The weaker the rival, the less sound the victory will be," he said.


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Presidential elections 2004

The Moscow Times, December 29, 2003

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