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National Agenda : Battle Lines Redrawn in Russia : Yeltsin's victory over the old Parliament opened new political schisms. Thirteen parties compete for voters.

December 07, 1993|RICHARD BOUDREAUX | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MOSCOW — Even as it built to a bloody climax, the 18-month struggle between President Boris N. Yeltsin and the Soviet-era Parliament was never as black and white as it looked from either side.

For as soon as Yeltsin defeated his enemies with a tank assault on Russia's White House two months ago, the old, simplified battle lines--democrats versus Communists, reformers versus reactionaries--disappeared. The political fragmentation and confusion of a society emerging from seven decades of communism suddenly became more apparent than ever.

The multiple choices facing post-Soviet Russia will appear for the first time on a ballot in Sunday's election of a new Parliament. There are 13 labels: Four from Yeltsin's liberal democratic camp, three in the center, three in the hard-line opposition and three "special interest" blocs representing women, environmentalists and people with disabilities.

Also competing for 450 seats in the Duma and 178 seats in the Federation Council are independents, many of them well-known local officials appointed by Yeltsin or held over from the old order.

Among the 3,814 candidates are a cosmonaut, an exiled millionaire, an Olympic weightlifting champion, a television faith healer and two Communist Party hacks on trial for the 1991 coup attempt against Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev.

If the faces and labels are baffling to outsiders, so are they for Russia's 106 million voters. Without the ever-popular Yeltsin on the ballot or endorsing anyone who is, poll takers find nearly half the electorate still undecided whether to vote or, if so, for whom.

Even so, the campaign has clarified seven distinct, representative voices that will have a say in the new politics, whatever the balance in Parliament.

They are candidates who articulate interests, lobbies, causes and sentiments that pollster Grigory A. Pashkov calls "political protoplasm"--the primitive formations that pass here for parties.

At one end of the spectrum is Gennady A. Zyuganov, leader of the resurgent Communists. At the other is Economy Minister Yegor T. Gaidar, architect of the painful market reforms under way now for nearly two years.

Gaidar tells voters there are no workable options in between because Russia "cannot make a leap and stop in the middle of it." Yet he has moderated his program, just as the Communists no longer wage die-hard resistance to privatization. The election campaign is more about how to conduct reform than whether it is necessary.

Arkady I. Volsky of the Civic Union stands for huge spending to modernize obsolete state factories, some of which support entire cities, before throwing them on the mercy of the market.

Mikhail I. Lapshin's Agrarian Party wants to protect millions on collective farms who feel threatened by Yeltsin's decree allowing the sale of farmland.

Beyond economics are issues that split the liberal and hard-line camps.

Sergei M. Shakhrai, once one of Yeltsin's closest advisers, has launched a movement to tap powerful sentiment in the provinces for wresting more autonomy from Moscow.

Liberal economist Grigory A. Yavlinsky opposes Yeltsin's draft constitution, saying it would give the president dictatorial powers. Fascist firebrand Vladimir V. Zhirinovsky favors it, hoping some day to wield those powers to restore the empire within the old Soviet borders.

Of these seven, major players, just two--Lapshin and Shakhrai--served in the old Parliament, chosen by voters under Soviet rule in 1990. None of the others have ever won election to public office, but they all could end up in the new Parliament.

That in itself would make history. Sunday's election may or may not decide which way Russia will go, but it is a landmark step toward a multi-party system that may civilize the clash of the country's disparate voices.

YEGOR T. GAIDAR

Age 37 Party: Russia's Choice Supporters: Pro-Yeltsin liberal democrats and new entrepreneurs.

The defense plant managers were a tough audience, but the candidate would not tell them what they wanted to hear. "There are branches of the economy that are chronically ill . . . that can be left to die," Yegor T. Gaidar said.

An angry murmur spread.

"We're on our knees here, don't you understand?" pleaded one executive in need of a bailout. The candidate replied: Start making things consumers need.

Gaidar, who launched Russia's market reforms two years ago, makes no apologies for the huge budget cuts and rapid privatization that have convulsed the economy and made him a demon to so many.

With backing from Yeltsin's inner circle, he is building the Russia's Choice movement around new entrepreneurs who profit from the changes.

But in his first run for elected office, Gaidar has made some political concessions to his new constituents, backing limited curbs on foreign banks and imports.

"Priorities in Russia are changing," he explained. "A domestic market has taken shape. It should be protected."

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