Elections Heat Up, Yeltsin Heads to Hometown for Campaign Finale
MOSCOW (AP) _ Boris Yeltsin headed to his hometown today for the grand finale of his presidential campaign as election fever heated up, just two days before Russia’s pivotal vote.
Yekaterinburg _ the Ural Mountains city where Yeltsin launched his campaign in a poorly received announcement in February _ was gearing up for the arrival of its newly energized native son.
Russian newspapers ran front-page, banner headlines endorsing their favorite candidate and included passionate appeals fitting to this highly emotional race, Russia’s first post-Soviet presidential election.
Most Russians see the vote as a choice between Yeltsin’s reforms and the Soviet past, symbolized by Yeltsin’s chief rival, Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov.
Much of the Russian media has been openly pro-Yeltsin, and today’s endorsements reflect that.
``Vote for Democracy,″ declared Kuranty, carrying a huge photo of Yeltsin. Several others, including the popular daily Moskovsky Komsomolets and the presidential administration paper Rossiiskiye Vesti, had similar headlines.
But Pravda, the Soviet-era Communist Party mouthpiece, said, ``Vote for Zyuganov or You’ll Lose the Future: Yours and Russia’s.″
Meanwhile, Yekaterinburg, the city where Russia’s last czar, Nicholas II, and his family were killed in 1918, was lined with Yeltsin campaign posters and the Russian tricolor flag.
Despite some disillusionment with the president, support for Yeltsin seemed high.
Svetlana Zhuravlyova sells pastries in the street to augment her salary at a failing defense plant, which has only given her half-pay for the past few months.
Yet she won’t vote for the Communists; she’s supporting Yeltsin.
``I don’t want any more changes. The Russian people are sick of experiments,″ she said.
Four months ago, a defiant and defensive Yeltsin announced he would seek a second term in a long speech to unenthused dignitaries. The mood contrasted with a huge, near-euphoric Communist rally for Zyuganov’s nomination.
But Yeltsin’s popularity has climbed in recent months, and he won an upbeat reception at a huge rally and concert in St. Petersburg on Thursday, as he delivered a forceful speech against his hard-line foes.
In a lengthy television interview Thursday, the president admitted that the war in Chechnya was a mistake but urged Russians to vote for him to prevent civil war.
Employing his favorite ``red scare″ tactics, Yeltsin warned that a Zyuganov would finish reforms, bring the nation to poverty and result in mass violence.
Zyuganov, meanwhile, declared that he was confident of a first-round victory in Sunday’s election, and ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky said he also expected Zyuganov to win.
Violence has marred the intense campaign this week. Two regional officials were murdered, and a bomb blast killed four people in the Moscow metro, an event many say was election-related.
The Moscow government announced today that it will offer free public transport on election day for the many city dwellers who spend weekends at their dachas, or country cottages, to encourage them to come back to town to vote.
Three of Russia’s best-known poll organizations all had Yeltsin clearly ahead of Zyuganov in their most recent surveys. Thursday was the last day polling data could be released. Polls in Russia consistently underestimate support for hard-liners.