MOSCOW — He won the first round. He wooed the kingmaker. He got his way in the timing of the runoff and chased the hawks from the Kremlin.
Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin has made all the right moves to clinch reelection in a July 3 showdown with Communist Party chief Gennady A. Zyuganov. But the vagaries of Russia's unformed democracy still make victory far from a sure thing.
The June 16 first round of voting has been interpreted as an endorsement of the new lifestyle prevailing after five years of painful reforms, as more people backed pro-market candidates than the Communists and nationalists nostalgic for the Soviet era.
But Russian commitment to democracy and capitalism will be put to a tougher test in the runoff as it collides with something even more cherished: summer vacation.
As many as a third of the people living in big-city reform bastions such as Moscow, St. Petersburg and Nizhny Novgorod take their holidays in July, which could deplete the vote for Yeltsin.
Zyuganov's constituency, on the other hand, is dominated by down-and-out pensioners and disgruntled government employees who can neither afford vacations nor country homes where they could relax and escape the heat.
The first round of voting left Yeltsin the relative winner with 35%. But Zyuganov was close on his heels with 32% and could collect a large share of the ballots cast by supporters of unsuccessful first-round candidates.
Ultranationalist Vladimir V. Zhirinovsky, who won 6% of the vote, has already urged his backers to vote for Zyuganov.
Yeltsin managed to lure to his side the third-place finisher, retired Gen. Alexander I. Lebed, by putting the maverick military man in charge of national security.
But Lebed collected a surprising 15% of the first-round vote precisely because he represented a palatable alternative to four more years of Yeltsin and Zyuganov's proposed retreat to the failed policies of the past.
Some Lebed supporters may heed his advice to reelect Yeltsin. But many others may be more vulnerable to the call of the countryside.
"It's all about turnout. That is what will decide the runoff," said a visibly worried Vyacheslav A. Nikonov, chief strategist for the Yeltsin reelection team.
Mark Y. Urnov, another Yeltsin campaign advisor, fears overconfidence has permeated the president's backers. "The tragedy is that the most prosperous think they don't have to vote themselves to get Yeltsin reelected," Urnov lamented. "The turnout for the second round could be even lower."
The 69% turnout registered in the first round would be considered high in Western countries, but it fell short of the democratic camp's expectations of 80% or more.
College students, who support Yeltsin over Zyuganov 3 to 1, will have completed their exams by the end of this month and will be headed home for the summer. Only those who had the foresight to arrange for absentee ballots will be able to vote in the runoff.
"Voting activity is problem No. 1 on our list of problems," said Anatoly B. Chubais, the former privatization chief now heading Yeltsin's reelection team.
If turnout for the runoff falls below 60%, Yeltsin may lose, predicted Igor Bunin, director of the Political Technologies Center, which provides analysis and forecasts.
Other analysts warn that Yeltsin was overexposed during the countdown to last Sunday's vote and that Russians may be tired of the campaign and the ubiquitous images of their leader. Yeltsin backers blitzed the airwaves with scare tactics before the first round, warning of a return of lines and shortages and alienation in the event of a Zyuganov win. State-run television ran popular movies chronicling Stalinist repressions night after night.
Even the widely welcomed purge of hard-liners from the security forces had its down side, as the firings were set off by a fiasco at the Russian White House that was an embarrassment for Yeltsin.
Two campaign workers carrying a box filled with $500,000 in cash were stopped by security men under the direction of Yeltsin's chief bodyguard and confidante, Alexander V. Korzhakov. The two were interrogated for 11 hours in an apparent attempt to discredit the reelection team and force cancellation of the runoff.
Viktor V. Ilyushin, Yeltsin's top political advisor, conceded that the incident, which exposed rifts and disloyalty within the administration, "is inflicting serious damage on the electoral campaign of the president."
Prime Minister Viktor S. Chernomyrdin confirmed that point Saturday, admitting that it is still unclear "whether this money, if there was any, was taken illegally."
Zyuganov has taken little advantage of the incident.
In fact, Zyuganov's withdrawal from face-to-face campaigning may be Yeltsin's salvation. The Communist candidate said Saturday that he has no plans to hit the hustings before election day but will hold daily press briefings in Moscow and try to coax Yeltsin into a televised debate before parliament.