Former front-runner Primakov loses steam as communist Zyuganov looks likely to poll well


In the context of an approaching presidential election, Seamus Martin assesses some of Russia's political heavyweights:

Gennady Zyuganov: With 113 seats in the State Duma, Mr Zyuganov's Communist Party has by far the largest representation in parliament. In the December 19th election the Communist Party of the Russian Federation won 24.19 per cent of the vote in the party list section, from which half of the 450 members are elected. This put it just ahead of the pro-Putin Unity party of Mr Sergei Shoigu. In the first-past-the-post section, by which the other half of the Duma is elected from single-seat constituencies, the Unity party fared very poorly.

Mr Zyuganov will poll well in the presidential election, particularly in the first round, but is most unlikely to be elected.

Sergei Shoigu: With 72 seats in the new Duma, the Unity party of the Emergencies Minister, Mr Sergei Shoigu, was the big surprise packet of the Duma elections. Like Mr Putin, whom he fully supports, Mr Shoigu gained popularity through the war in Chechnya. As Emergencies Minister he was pictured nightly on television in newly conquered towns and villages and became very closely identified with Russian military successes.

Yevgeny Primakov: On the eve of the Duma election Mr Primakov announced his candidacy for the presidency. At one stage he seemed to be odds-on favourite to succeed Mr Yeltsin but a disastrous performance by the Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) party, which he jointly led with Moscow's mayor, Mr Yuri Luzhkov, has badly dented his chances.

Sergei Kiriyenko: Prime minister of Russia at the collapse of the economy in August 1998, Mr Sergei Kiriyenko's political career looked doomed. Thanks to strong support from pro-Kremlin TV, his Union of Right Wing Forces managed a surprising 8.6 per cent of the poll on December 19th and gained 29 seats in all. As Mr Shoigu's Unity party does not appear to have a coherent economic policy, Mr Kiriyenko and his associates, who favour the economic ideals of Reagan and Thatcher, are likely to be the main economic ideologues in any new government.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky: Saved from oblivion in the Duma elections by friendly TV stations, the madcap ultra-rightwing leader has been a consistent supporter of Mr Yeltsin and his allies in every crucial Duma vote. Although he will oppose Mr Putin in the presidential election, Mr Zhirinovsky and his 16 colleagues will support the acting President in the Duma.

Grigory Yavlinsky: For years the only true democratic leader in the Duma, Mr Yavlinksky's Yabloko party managed only 5.9 per cent in the Duma elections and will have 29 seats. Likely to run for the presidency, Mr Yavlinsky is regarded by many as arrogant.