Boris 2000?

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Boris Yeltsin seems to be plotting a third presidential term in 2000. Everything he has done recently -— from naming a new, malleable prime minister to doing a live Q&A on the Internet to bantering with journalists -— points that way. So clear are the signs that a well-connected politician, Yegor Stroyev, citing "intuition," publicly predicted a third Yeltsin term last week.

Yeltsin’s election would hardly be automatic. First he must evade a constitutional two-term limit. Yeltsin’s aides argue that since his first election in 1991 was under the old Soviet constitution, he has, under the 1993 Russian constitution, served only once. A more practical problem is support. The business and media coalition that backed Yeltsin in 1996 is no more, and his onetime supporters are no longer sure he is electable -— or desirable.

Why would Yeltsin run again? One answer -- power -- is obvious. Another answer is fear. Other top politicians have in their retirement been hounded by corruption charges and embarrassed by revelations about their private lives.