Victory in Hand, Yeltsin Retains PremierBy Lee Hockstader
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, July 5, 1996; Page A01
A buoyant President Boris Yeltsin, his health and spirits apparently lifted by a decisive reelection victory, called on Russians today to heal the wounds of a bitter campaign and signaled a steady course by renominating his loyal prime minister.
Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, defeated by nearly 10 million votes in Wednesday's election runoff, expressed his bitterness at the "crude" inequities and "ruinous price" of the presidential campaign. Nonetheless, with emotion cracking his voice at a packed news conference, he congratulated Yeltsin and ruled out instigating any street protests to challenge the results.
With 99 percent of the vote counted, Yeltsin led Zyuganov by a convincing margin of 53.7 percent to 40.4 percent; other voters cast their ballots against both candidates. Final official results are expected in the next few days.
If there was an edginess to some public statements here today, there was also a tone of restraint and conciliation that eased earlier fears that the Communists might refuse to accept defeat.
"Let us not divide the country into the victorious and the vanquished," Yeltsin said in his nationally televised address this morning. "We have one Russia -- a great, vast country."
Said Zyuganov: "We respect the will of the citizens of the Russian Federation. . . . Restraint, cohesion and organization -- these are our watchwords today."
Seeking a silver lining in his defeat, Zyuganov declared that a two-party system is emerging in Russia and that the political muscle of the Communist-led campaign alliance would have to be acknowledged by the new government.
Relieved Western and Japanese leaders, who had feared that a Communist victory would derail market reforms and spark instability in Russia, congratulated Yeltsin.
German Chancellor Helmut Kohl told reporters he had telephoned the Russian leader. "I told him how many of us, in Germany and elsewhere, hope that he will, step by step, advance reforms to increase the rule of law, expand democratic institutions and carry out the necessary economic reforms for more social stability -- and I have no doubt he will do it," Kohl said.
Yeltsin, 65, whose health deteriorated visibly in the closing week of the campaign, seemed today to have largely recovered. In contrast to his shaky appearance Wednesday, when he was filmed voting near a government rest house outside Moscow, he seemed in good spirits, if slightly pale, on television today, both in his address to the nation and as he thanked top members of his campaign team.
Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin said Yeltsin merely has a cold. The president's wife, Naina, said on television tonight: "He never has a chance to fully get over colds. He needs to rest a bit. . . . It's been a difficult four months."
In a sign of continuity, Yeltsin retained Chernomyrdin in his current post, which he has held since late 1992. Chernomyrdin, 58, the former head of Russia's vast oil and gas empire, will now go about forming a new cabinet.
Before the election, Zyuganov, 52, had proposed forming a coalition government in which the current cabinet, Communists and other parties would be represented on equal and perhaps balanced terms. Today, both Yeltsin and Chernomyrdin suggested they might incorporate members of the defeated Communist-led bloc into the government, though probably not in prominent posts.
"I am confident there will room in the new team for all those in whom you have put your trust," Yeltsin told voters in his address.
Parliament has the option of voting down Yeltsin's choice for prime minister, but it appears unlikely that the Communists and nationalists who dominate the legislature have any appetite for a new fight with the Russian leader over his choice of the moderate Chernomyrdin. Gennady Seleznyov, the Communist speaker of the lower house, said he expects Chernomyrdin to be confirmed. Chernomyrdin, who would become interim president in the event of Yeltsin's death or incapacitation, suggested that the Kremlin is not expecting any major battles.
"There should be no division into `Reds' and `non-Reds,' " he said at a news conference. "There should be no settling of scores, no rebukes."
Indeed, if Chernomyrdin had any rebukes in mind, they seemed directed not at the Communists but at some of his potential future rivals for the presidency.
One is Alexander Lebed, a retired army general named by Yeltsin last month as his national security chief after Lebed's surprisingly strong third-place showing in the June 16 first-round presidential vote.
In recent days, Lebed, 46, has twice suggested that the post of vice president -- which does not exist under Russia's 1993 constitution -- be revived and has shown he wants the job. That would make him second in line for the presidency, supplanting Chernomyrdin. Lebed has also called for expansion of his authority as secretary of Yeltsin's Security Council, an advisory body with no constitutional standing.
Like a patriarch swatting down an overeager nephew, Chernomyrdin advised Lebed today to "calm down a bit" and added: "I am not going to shift my powers to anyone."
As for Lebed's vice presidential aspirations, Chernomyrdin said: "I do not understand this. . . . I personally do not see any particular need for this post."
Chernomyrdin also took a swipe at Grigory Yavlinsky, 44, a free-market economist who ran fourth, behind Lebed, on June 16. Yavlinsky irked the Kremlin by declining to issue a clear endorsement of Yeltsin before the runoff, calling on his supporters instead not to vote for the Communists.
Asked if he would include Yavlinsky in the new government, Chernomyrdin bristled. "What is so special about Yavlinsky?" he said. "What is this connected with? Can anybody tell me what Yavlinsky has accomplished?"
Zyuganov, for his part, generated some suspense by keeping out of public view for much of the day, leaving many to wonder whether the Communists were planning to concede defeat. When he finally emerged for a 6:30 p.m. (10:30 a.m. EDT) news conference, he did concede, but grudgingly. As he had so often before the election, he complained that the campaign playing field was made uneven by the pro-Yeltsin media and the Kremlin's vast financial advantage.
"Like all Russians," he said, "we understand that the success of the current ruling forces was achieved not only at a price that was expensive and ruinous for the country, but also as a result of crude violations of election legislation and the unprecedented mobilization of state resources for the benefit of Mr. Yeltsin's electoral campaign."
He said his coalition would bring court actions in 60 cases of what he called "gross violations of law." Nonetheless, he ruled out "radical street methods" of challenging the election result.
"The reality is that there are millions of citizens who, consciously or unconsciously, whether under pressure or not, have cast their votes the way they did," he said. "It is my duty to respect the rights of citizens and the rules of civilized society."