CNN Pivotal Elections
Russia Elections Candidates

Boris Yeltsin

With declining living standards, a high crime rate, rampant unemployment and an on-again-off-again war in Chechnya, 1996 is not a good year to be the Russian presidential incumbent.

The challenge for Boris Yeltsin will be to persuade voters that, as bleak and uncertain as their lives are today, they will be better off tomorrow under his continued leadership.


Yeltsin, 65, has seen his fortunes rise and fall in the turbulent years since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

A former construction engineer and Communist who rose through the party ranks, Yeltsin quit the party in 1990 after being elected speaker of the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic.

On June 12, 1991, Yeltsin became the first elected president of the Russian Federation. June 12 is celebrated in Russia as Independence Day. That same year, Yeltsin helped ward off a hard-liners' coup against then-Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev, and he stood up to the Communists again in 1993 during a siege of Russia's parliament building.

In late 1991, Yeltsin oversaw the breakup of the Soviet Union into independent states.

Yeltsin's popularity plummeted after he introduced a radical reform plan intended to move Russia into a market-based economy. While some residents have thrived under Yeltsin's plan, it has caused great hardship for others, and many voters still hold this against their president.

Yeltsin is running a slick Western-style campaign the likes of which Russia has never seen.

Although he has no party organization to speak of, Yeltsin gets plenty of positive coverage by the Russian news media which sing Yeltsin's praises partly out of fear -- Yeltsin has been known to fire editors of state-run newspapers who have been critical of him -- and partly out of a sense of self-preservation -- a return to Communism would almost certainly mean a resumption of media censorship.

With the help of a timely $10 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund, Yeltsin is bankrolling his campaign promises. Among these are pledges to pay delinquent salaries to teachers and soldiers, build housing for veterans of the Afghan war and erect a Muslim cultural center.

Political observers had all but written off Yeltsin just six months ago. Because Yeltsin had suffered two heart attacks and a plunge in popularity, few thought he would be as strong in the polls as he was in the June 16 election.

Polls, however, are notoriously unreliable in Russia because many voters do not feel comfortable sharing their political views with surveyors.

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Gennady Zyuganov


Boris Yeltsin's runoff rival for the presidency is Gennady Zyuganov, leader of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation. A life-long Communist, Zyuganov presides over a broad coalition of groups bound together by an antipathy for Yeltsin and his market reforms.

Among Zyuganov's supporters are pensioners and blue collar workers who have found it hard to make a living in the new economy and those who are nostalgic for Russia's heyday as a world super power and are attracted by Zyuganov's promise to restore order.

Russians who have cashed in on Yeltsin's capitalist reforms fear a Zyuganov presidency as do Western investors who stand to lose their footing in Russia if the country returns to a Communist system.

Zyuganov assures Western investors and Russian entrepreneurs that he would not seize private assets and would permit some forms of private property.

In the company of supporters, however, he condemns all forms of capitalism and blames the West for the fall of the Soviet Union.

"Capitalism doesn't fit in our flesh and blood, in our everyday life, in our habits and in the mentality of our society," he wrote in his book "Derzhava."

An apologist for Josef Stalin, Zyuganov tends to gloss over his hero's purges, which killed millions of Soviet citizens in prison camps, forced collectivization and induced famine. Zyuganov admits there were some "excesses" in Stalin's time, but blames them on people surrounding the leader.

Zyuganov says some day the former republics of the Soviet Union will reunite voluntarily.

He was born in rural Russia to two school teachers. At age 14, Zyuganov walked nine miles to join the Communist Party in a neighboring town. He rose through the party ranks, serving as a propagandist in the Ideology Department of the Soviet Communist Party and in several positions in Moscow before becoming party leader in 1993. In 1995, he led his party to win a majority in the Duma, Russia's parliament.

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Major candidates from the first round

Alexander Lebed


No political race would be complete without a military hero, and in Russia that man is Alexander Lebed. Lebed came in third in the first round of elections, placing him in the position to throw his support to either Yeltsin or Zyuganov.

Lebed, 46, is one of the leaders of the Congress of Russian Communities in parliament, a party founded to support ethnic Russians living in former Soviet republics. He is a popular speaker.

A retired Army general who served in the Afghan war, Lebed became a local hero when he led Russia's 14th Army into the breakaway republic of Moldova to defend ethnic Russians in 1992. He is credited with ending civil war in the former Soviet republic.

An outspoken critic of Yeltsin, Lebed thinks Russia has mishandled the conflict in Chechnya. His platform combines patriotism with a call for a return to law and order. He wants to return the Russian army to its former glory and favors an end to conscription.

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Grigory Yavlinsky


As head of the centrist, pro-reform Yabloko Party, Grigory Yavlinsky wielded considerable power in the election. At various times during the campaign he flirted with the idea of an alliance with Yeltsin and with retired Army Gen. Alexander Lebed, who also ran for president.

A liberal economist and an ex-Soviet government adviser, Yavlinsky, 44, favored a gentler transition to a market-based economy. To counter the polarization of wealth that has occurred under Yeltsin's reforms, he said large monopolies should be renationalized, then divided into smaller entities to promote competition.

He would have increased the minimum wage and loosened inflation controls to allow for a more generous expansion of the economy. He also wanted to fight crime and corruption and reform the military.

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Vladimir Zhirinovsky


The ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky entered the political scene in 1991, surprising observers by finishing third in the presidential race.

In 1993, he led his party, the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, to capture nearly 23 percent of the vote in an election for the Duma, or lower house of parliament. In parliamentary elections in December 1995, the party came in second with 11 percent of the vote.

This year, the flamboyant lawyer who once punched a woman on the floor of the Russian parliament, was not considered a serious contender for the race.

Zhirinovsky, 50, is best known outside Russia for his outrageous statements. He once advocated napalming Chechnya and promised to annex Alaska if he is elected.

This year, Zhirinovsky was trying to present a more moderate face to voters. Promising to "bring happiness to every Russian home," he handed out ruble notes and Zhirinovsky-brand vodka to his supporters.

Zhirinovsky has said he will support Zyuganov.

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Mikhail Gorbachev


The last president of the Soviet Union finds himself an also-ran in the first post-Soviet presidential elections. Despite his persistent campaigning, he did not garner more than 1 percent in the polls.

Reviled by Communists for dismantling the USSR, Gorbachev is also scorned by liberals who blame him for the troubles Russia has had in adjusting to a market economy.

Gorbachev's reforms of "glasnost" and "perestroika," or openness and reconstructing, ultimately led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union and a new economic system.

Today Gorbachev, 65, presents himself as a centrist alternative to Communists on one side and liberal reformers on the other.

His politics resemble that of the social democrats of Western Europe. He wants to provide free medical treatment and education and higher wages.

Gorbachev contends that Yeltsin's economic reforms have benefited only a small percentage of Russians. And he warns that if the Communists are elected, they will return Russia to a Soviet-style repression.

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