RUSSIA'S Communists, flushed with their success at Sunday's parliamentary polls, have not even waited for the final vote count to launch their campaign to put a Communist back in the Kremlin as president.
"No time to rest" blared the front-page headline in Wednesday's Pravda newspaper, as party leader Gennady Zyuganov reached out to possible allies before June's presidential election.
But the first hurdle on the campaign trail appears to be just around the corner: What to do if President Boris Yeltsin asks them to join the government?
On one hand, the prospect of ministerial posts would be sweet to the Communists, ejected so ignominiously from power less than five years ago. But with his eyes fixed on a much juicier plum, the presidency, Mr. Zyuganov will also be tempted to keep his distance.
Officials close to Mr. Yeltsin are hinting that the president is ready to bite the bullet and invite his bitterest enemies into the government.
"The ideal option would be to include some Communists into the Cabinet," says Andrei Loginov, the president's liaison with the Duma (lower house of parliament).
Yeltsin himself, as he cast his ballot last Sunday, said that "the government composition should take into account a certain distribution of forces in the new Duma." And since then it has become clear that the Communist Party will control by far the largest block of seats - as many as 150 in the 450-seat house.
Although final official results are not expected until next week, it is clear that the Communists won about 21 percent of the vote, as much as their two closest rivals combined.
In second place came Vladimir Zhirinovsky's ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party, with 11 percent, just ahead of Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's Our Home is Russia party, with 10 percent. The only other party with more than five percent of the vote, the minimum amount to earn Duma seats, was Yabloko, led by free-market economist Grigory Yavlinsky.
But the Communists are unlikely to want to reap the fruits of the victory immediately. For a start, Yeltsin's offer will not end up being very tempting, according to aides.
"The Communists will not get a single key post in the government," top presidential adviser Georgy Satarov told the official daily Rossiskiye Vesti yesterday.
Furthermore, Zyuganov is wary of being co-opted into an unpopular government over which he would have no control. He is much better positioned for the presidential race as an opposition candidate.