Zyuganov Stands Alone

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MOSCOW: Nationalist and sometime presidential candidate Vladimir Zhirinovsky sent minor tremors through Russia's presidential race Wednesday with the unexpected announcement that he could not support Communist Gennadi Zyuganov in the July 3 presidential runoff. With Boris Yeltsin and Zyuganov locked in a tight battle for any extra edge that an endorsement might bring, Zhirinovsky was Zyuganov's last hope for an ally among the presidential candidates eliminated by Sunday's first round of voting. Betraying a not-so-keen grasp of electoral politics, Zhirinovsky said of his supporters: "There is no way they will go to the Communists in the second round. They're my voters and they'll vote as I tell them." Well, maybe. TIME Senior Writer Bruce Nelan says that Zhirinovsky's announcement is likely to confuse his supporters, who have a strong allegiance to their leader, but who are naturally attracted to the Communists' increasingly nationalistic ideology. "I don't know what he's up to," Nelan says. "We had expected him to endorse Zyuganov, and his voters probably would have responded enthusiastically." Many Zhirinovsky supporters may now stay home, and those who do go to the polls may pull the Communist lever. But there's still hope for Zyuganov: Nelan notes that the mercurial Zhirinovsky has not yet endorsed Yeltsin and could easily have a change of heart by election day.

Yeltsin has already collected the support of two other candidates: former general Alexander Lebed (who finished third) and eye surgeon Syatoslav Fyodorov. And liberal reformer Grigori Yavlinski, who refuses to endorse either candidate, has told his supporters they have a duty to vote and must not vote for Zyuganov. "It's a kind of left-handed support for Yeltsin," Nelan notes. "But many of Yavlinsky's people may vote for 'none of the above.' It may be asked, Where else can serious reformers and serious democrats go?" Not to the Communists, certainly. So, while the other candidates abandon him, Zyuganov must count on the strong national structure of the Communist Party to make this a close race. Chris McKenna