The Guardian April 5, 2000


Has Russia a legal President?

Russian elections on March 26, 2000, saw the acting President, Vladimir 
Putin turn into the President-elect. Appointed by Boris Yeltsin in August 
1999 as Prime Minister, Putin has suddenly found himself in the lime light 
but very few people seem to really know much about him.

He is 47 years old, a lawyer by training. Much has been made about his KGB 
career and the five years he spent in the GDR from 1985 to 1990. While "KGB 
spy" headlines seem to entertain bourgeois press no end, it is Putin's 
further career moves that are more illuminating.

Putin was an advisor to Sobchak, the Leningrad city mayor (It was Sobchak 
who renamed the city St Petersburg). It was also Sobchak who drafted a new 
constitution which gave Yeltsin the virtual absolute presidential power 
that Putin now inherits.

This was done after Boris Yeltsin ordered the shelling of the parliament 
building in Moscow in 1993.

As deputy mayor of St Petersburg, Putin was also head of Committee for 
External Relations  set up to handle lucrative export licences.

That was in 1994. Sobchak was defeated in elections and was soon under 
investigation for corruption.

Putin was brought to Moscow in 1996 and worked as deputy to Kremlin 
property administrator, Pavel Borodin (also under investigation for taking 
kickbacks).

In 1997, Putin became head of the Kremlin's General Control Department, in 
charge of ensuring Yeltsin's presidential decrees and resolutions were 
enforced.

In 1998 he became the deputy head of the Kremlin's Administration in charge 
of Moscow's relations with Russia's 89 regions  a very powerful and 
influential position.

In the same year Yeltsin appointed Putin head of FSB, the Federal Security 
Services.

The year 1999 was an eventful one  first he was appointed head of the 
Presidential Security Council which coordinated the activities of Russia's 
military, security and police forces.

Then in August, he was appointed Prime Minister to replace Stepashin who 
had a few months earlier, replaced the popular Yevgenni Primakov.

It was a time of intense speculation about high-level corruption scandals 
and revelations in the Western media about the Kremlin's involvement.

In September, several apartment blocks in Moscow were raised to the ground 
by explosions and Islamic terrorists were blamed.

Chechen commanders had made several incursions into Dagestan, a province 
neighbouring Chechnya. The second Chechen war was on.

Putin became acting President on December 31, 1999  after Boris Yeltsin 
stepped down. His resignation effectively brought forward presidential 
elections by three months. They were not due to be held until the middle of 
this year.

Putin became the favourite to win the elections, but there had to be a poll 
of more than 50 per cent of the total electorate to avoid another election 
in four months time.

He also had to receive more than 50 per cent of that vote to avoid a run-
off between the two top candidates.

As far as Putin was concerned he had to prevent another election in the 
northern summer. There were several reasons for this.

Firstly, he had not produced any program of economic, political or social 
measures that he would be committed to implementing.

Secondly, his popularity had already peaked.

The war in Chechnya has moved into a protracted guerrilla-type phase and 
this will continue for some time.

Thirdly, a second election in the summer months would not favour Putin as 
many people move to the country-side for summer and, as elections are not 
compulsory, very low turn-out is a certainty.

There were 11 candidates in the presidential race but only two serious 
contenders  Vladimir Putin and Gennady Zyuganov of the Communist Party of 
the Russian Federation (CPRF).

There were 108 million eligible voters and about 70 per cent took part in 
the elections according to the Electoral Commission.

While Putin is considered to be elected, the final figures have still not 
been published.

The Communist Party is staggered by the scale of fraud in the elections and 
insists on their observers checking the ballot papers.

The CPRF gives as an example of fraudulent voting, the situation in 
Tatarstan where the number of voters is 2.7 million. The number of ballot 
papers printed was six million!

Elections started in the Far East and went through the 11 time zones which 
cover the Russian Federation.

From the Far East through Siberia the Communist Party candidate was in 
front. Exit poll results caused a panic in the Kremlin.

The previous elections indicated that the growth of the left vote was 
moving towards the central parts of Russia. Far Eastern and East Siberian 
regions showed that Zyuganov's results of 32 and 37 per cent were much 
higher than in previous elections.

It was clear that his overall vote could be as high as 40 per cent, while 
Putin's vote, at 42-48 per cent, demonstrated that he would not get the 
necessary 50 per cent to avoid a run-off.

This critical situation demanded quick actions and they were taken.

The Internet was used to send falsified figures to the regions. TV stations 
joined in stating that Putin had achieved a decisive victory and that 
Zyuganov had lost.

Communist Party observers were threatened at polling stations. Several 
people were detained with multiple ballot papers.

While the Communist Party of the Russian Federation intends to make the 
electoral fraud public, the majority of voters do not regard the elections 
as an answer to their problems.

A spokesperson for the CPRF, Mr Frolov said: "It appears that Russia is at 
an historic stage where the problems it faces are not of the kind to be 
decided at the polls.

To many unresolved questions in Russia another one will be added. Is there 
a legal President in Russia?"

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