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Zhirinovsky's Crude Appeal

Despite late shifts toward reformers, vote for parliament and Constitution in Russia is a defeat for Boris Yeltsin

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FOR everyone who had a chance to watch Moscow TV in the month prior to the election, it was easy to predict the loser: Yegor Gaidar and Russia's Choice. It was not so easy to predict the winner.

Russia's Choice, whose leaders were mostly a part of the Yeltsin government, was under attack from all the other parties - not only the communists of Gennadi Zyuganov and the nationalists of Vladimir Zhirinovsky, but also the reform economist, Grigory Yavlinski, and the pro-Solzhenitsyn Democratic Party of Russia. The real target of the attacks was not Mr. Gaidar but President Boris Yeltsin himself.

Mr. Yeltsin's policies were defended only by Gaidar and the other representatives of Russia's Choice, and very poorly at that. Gaidar, as Yeltsin's proxy in the election, was not only extremely boring but arrogant in his TV appearances. This arrogance was manifested in his remarks that he and his colleagues were too busy with government work, so they did not have time to answer the accusations of the opposition. Underlying the impression of arrogance was the image, repeatedly shown by the opposition on TV, of the shelling of the Russian parliament by Yeltsin's tanks.

So it came as no great surprise to those who were able to watch Russian TV that Russia's Choice lost the election. What did come as a surprise was the extent of Mr. Zhirinovsky's victory.

But, to do credit to Zhirinovsky, it is necessary to emphasize that his appearances were the most interesting of all the candidates'. He was the best speaker. He entertained the audience instead of speaking like a professor. In some respects, he seemed more like a Western politician than any of the other candidates. Probably he lost himself a few million votes with his racist remarks, such as his call for blond, blue-eyed speakers on TV, which only alienated the non-blonds and the non-blue-eyed without adding anything to the readiness of the nationalists to vote for him.


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