Boris N. Yeltsin won a landslide victory Wednesday night against his Communist presidential opponent, but the recent, mysterious slump in his health is likely to make it hard for him to govern effectively, and may even lead to destabilizing drift and Kremlin power struggles.
With 92 percent of the vote counted, the ailing Russian president had a resounding 54 to 41 percent lead over Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, who had promised to roll back market reforms and harden Russia’s relations with the West.
But any euphoria over Yeltsin’s huge mandate was tempered by a deepening anxiety about his health, and a general feeling that he is not up to tackling Russia’s chronic problems for another four-year term.
His campaign came to a premature halt when he fell ill last week, and yesterday he avoided the media glare for the seventh straight day by voting at an out-of-the-way polling station. Aides say he merely has a cold and will be back at his desk soon.
Still, the large margin was being viewed as a remarkable political accomplishment for Yeltsin, who was dismissed as a viable candidate only six months ago. Wednesday’s turnout of 67 percent far exceeded expectations, especially given that Wednesday’s run-off was the second time voters have gone to the polls in a month. Yeltsin and Zyuganov were the top finishers in a preliminary vote June 16.
Yeltsin’s overwhelming mandate was not seen here as a sign of his renewed popularity, but rather as a desire by ordinary Russians to keep their country on a stable course. Although many people don’t like the new market economy, they were afraid that Zyuganov’s program to restore Soviet-style central planning would have simply resulted in more upheavals.
But Russia is likley to be anything but stable in the coming months, analysts predict. Yeltsin racked up millions of dollars of expensive promises during the campaign, even though Moscow is now unable to pay wages and pensions on time.
The shock therapy program Yeltsin introduced five years ago has been so watered down that, “reforms have almost come to a standstill,” said Nikolai Petrov, a political expert at the Carnegie Foundation’s Moscow think tank.
Although Yeltsin succeeded in creating a capitalist free-for-all in Russia during the past five years, he had made little headway in developing a policy for dealing with the brokendown industrial and agricultural sectors. “He has not systematic vision for where he’s taking the country,” said Thane Gustafson, an expert on the Russian economy.
Neither Yeltsin nor Zyuganov commented on Wednesday’s results. Zyuganov abruptly canceled a press conference he had planned to give Wednesday night after the polls closed. Yeltsin’s aides said he will air a televised statement today aimed at reconciling Communist voters. Some Communist supporters, particularly elderly pensioners hurt by reforms, left the polling stations in tears.
Yeltsin has about 45 days to present a new cabinet to parliament for approval. But as soon as that task is completed, Petrov predicted, “Yeltsin will disappear for a long time because of his health problems.” He spent almost five months in the hospital last year undergoing treatment for a heart ailment.
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