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Halfway to Success
By Svetlana Lolayeva,
"Vryemya MN", No 206
November 5, 1999

The "Vryemya MN" newspaper continues publishing articles on the electoral campaigns of the leading electoral associations. Today we shall look closely at the Yabloko electoral association.

To gain one of the main prizes at the 1999 elections, Yabloko must overcome its organisational weaknesses. None of the electoral blocs that decided to try their luck during present parliamentary elections enjoys such a good starting position as Yabloko. Grigory Yavlinsky's association has all it needs for victory: money, organisational structures and intellectual resources.

If we add here the neutrality of the Kremlin and the absence of strong competitors on the right flank, this provides a more than favourable background. The past has taught Yabloko a number of lessons. Learning from the experience of the 1995-1996 elections, when the main sponsors refused to help Yabloko, yielding in the very last moment to pressure from the authorities, Yabloko has created a system of decentralised financing for the present campaign: small financial springs are combined into one financial source. Thus, if Gusinsky or Khodorovsky, who are publicly called Yabloko's main sponsors, suddenly change their minds, it won't be a disaster for Yabloko, according to sources from the "Vryemya" newspaper.

Another lesson has been learned: language should be simpler to win over the public. In 1995 the public was offered a book "Reforms from Below", which was read in the end by only the academic part of the electorate. Today about 30 booklets each covering a special topic have been published, namely: "Yabloko for a Cut in Taxes", "Yabloko for Human Rights", etc. The "Yabloko and the Army" booklet addresses military issues, while Yabloko's agrarian programme is written for the rural population.

Yabloko has made careful preparations, establishing contacts with the rural population: draft programmes were sent to 2,000 of rural population in Belgorod, Saratov and Novgorod regions and Krasnoyarsk Territory. The opinions and advice of the rural population were not only considered in the programme, but also published in two separate booklets.

Yabloko considerably eased propaganda for itself during the electoral campaign, by working with the libraries of small towns and villages, sending them both party material and other books during the past 18 months.

Yabloko also made use of another previously prepared election resource - its Internet site (www.yabloko.ru). Created at the beginning of 1998, it is today the most frequently visited party site. In addition, the party maintains through the Internet its connections with regional organisations. The emphasis, however, will be laid on proven electoral means - electoral tours around the country and television.

Naturally enough, Grigory Yavlinsky plays the leading role in winning over the electorate. He has to tour about 30 regions of Russia during the campaign. Other Yabloko members will also make propaganda tours. Yabloko uses Nikolai Travkin as heavy artillery in the "red regions". The Hero of the Socialist Labour and well-known builder, Nikolai Travkin, should conquer the hearts of the electorate, that is dissatisfied with both the present regime and the communists.

Yabloko's television advertising will also probably be more human. According to our sources at Yabloko, this time the clips will not show pretty women with babies in their arms singing romantically, "Gri-i-i-go-o-o-riy", or fake peasants that resemble junior research staff. A series of clips have already been filmed in a laconic documentary manner, where ordinary people explain why they will vote for Yavlinsky's party. However, according to our other sources, Igor Malashenko (Ed. Director of NTV, a private TV channel), who has been providing PR assistance on behalf of the Media-Most group (Ed. the actual owner of the channel) does not like these clips. If Mr Malashenko manages to propose his own ideas (e.g, Video International), then we will see a TV product that resembles the clip we saw this summer. In this clip Grigory Yavlinsky and Co march towards the "beautiful future" with a huge Russian tricolour flag in the background. Yabloko would now have to make a new version of this clip, so that Sergei Stepashin could be seen marching in the group.

The former Prime Minister is a valuable asset for Yabloko as a symbol of Yabloko's ability to achieve agreements, rather than appear as an independent voice. The argument over what Yabloko obtained from Sergei Stepashin - more profit or more loss - will be settled in the elections. However, Sergei Stepashin has already benefited Yabloko. By catching the former Prime Minister from right under the noses of the "Union of Right Forces" and "Our Home is Russia", Yabloko deprived its competitors on the right flank of chances for success.

The party has also yielded other dividends by including Sergei Stepashin in Yabloko's list. The refusal of Gennady Seleznyov (Ed. Speaker of the Duma, member of the communist party) to compete with Sergei Stepashin in one electoral district represented the first public retreat of the communists before Yabloko. However, the general campaign may be lost owing to Yabloko's traditional error - bad organisation. Vyacheslav Igrunov, a man deprived of any organisational talents here, according to most observers and Yabloko members, was appointed head of Yabloko's electoral headquarters.

Another financing fiasco is unlikely, as Sergei Ivanenko, known for delving into every detail, and Grigory Yavlinsky are responsible. However, there is no guarantee that Grigory Yavlinsky won't end up in the South, when he should be in the North, and that the military won't receive the agrarian programme, while the peasants receive the booklet for the military.

However, Yabloko is unlikely to suffer a defeat on December 19, 1999, even if its electoral campaign is accompanied by blunders. At the same time, a Yabloko electoral breakthrough is in doubt. Yabloko resembles a pupil diligently studying throughout the year, but making annoying blunders during exams. The publicly announced goal of the party for the 1999 electoral campaign is to double its representation in the Duma, in other words, obtain at least 14% of the votes. But if Yavlinsky's party fails to overcome "the 7% ghetto", it will be doomed to remain a proud, but small opposition.


ei Stepashin on Grigory Yavlinsky's proposals