Communist Party leader Gennady A. Zyuganov took his struggling campaign to friendly territory deep in Siberia on Tuesday and pitched a new strategy for overtaking President Boris N. Yeltsin by forging a coalition with non-Communist challengers.
“All who represent the ‘third force’ would be offered posts in a government of popular trust,” Zyuganov told a news conference during a grueling day of stumping in this industrial city of 1.3 million people. “Consider my statement here as an official invitation.”
The offer was a desperate bid by Zyuganov to broaden his coalition of Communist and socialist parties and reverse his slump in the polls before the June 16 election.
He said he is talking “intensively” with other candidates, including ultranationalist Vladimir V. Zhirinovsky and eye surgeon Svyatoslav N. Fyodorov. The Communist’s reference to the “third force” was to a would-be coalition of Fyodorov and two other candidates that never jelled.
Fyodorov, a self-made millionaire who also rejected an alliance with Yeltsin, declared Tuesday that he is not interested in one with the Communists either. “Politics is a struggle of ideas, not people,” he told reporters in Moscow.
Although Zhirinovsky has always portrayed himself as anti-Communist and is viewed by Zyuganov’s supporters with a mixture of grudging admiration and disdain, an aide to the flamboyant ultranationalist said a possible coalition between the two is “very realistic.”
Eleven men are running for president, but none is expected to receive the 50% majority needed to win in the first round. Yeltsin and Zyuganov are widely expected to meet in a runoff next month.
Zyuganov held a steady lead over Yeltsin in early polls, but the president has been campaigning vigorously. A survey by the Russian Institute for Comparative Social Research, released Saturday to CNN and the Moscow Times, showed Yeltsin leading Zyuganov 33% to 20%.
Zhirinovsky was tied in third place with liberal economist Grigory A. Yavlinsky and retired army Gen. Alexander I. Lebed, with 6% each.
Seated Tuesday between two massive portraits--one of Karl Marx and one of Soviet Union founder V. I. Lenin--Zyuganov said he doubted the reliability of preelection polls.
“These ratings are obviously meant to exert pressure on public opinion,” he told journalists, accusing pollsters of trying to improve Yeltsin’s chances and scare voters away from him.
Zyuganov campaigned nonstop for 13 hours here Tuesday after a cramped, red-eye Aeroflot flight from Moscow. His first stop on a three-city trip through western Siberia was packed with nostalgic reminders of the Soviet era.
In a morning speech to scholars, Zyuganov sat on a stage with a huge backdrop bearing Lenin’s face. At three outdoor rallies--at a construction institute, a monument to World War II dead and a central city plaza--the candidate’s followers hoisted Soviet-style red banners and posters with slogans such as “Russia, Labor, Power to the People, Socialism!” and “Socialism Will Be!”
“If we do not quickly change the course of our social and economic development, we will lose our country,” Zyuganov told an evening crowd on the plaza.
His fierce anti-Yeltsin message appeared to resonate deeply with the crowds of mostly older people who flocked by the thousands to see him. Novosibirsk, Russia’s fourth-largest city, thrived under Soviet rule as a pampered academic center and military-industrial hub.
But as Yeltsin’s government implemented free-market reforms, the factories that supplied the Soviet military lost orders and funding. Now many of them stand idle, and workers go without pay.
Academics accustomed to the privileges of the old system are now receiving salaries dwarfed by those paid to workers in the new commercial sector. Unemployment and discontent run high.
Alexei Gruzdev, 62, a biologist, said he was undecided before listening to Zyuganov speak to a standing-room-only crowd at the House of Scholars in a local suburb. When the speech was over, he said: “It’s most probable that I will vote for Zyuganov.
“He was much better than he has been presented on television and in the press,” Gruzdev added. “Before now, I didn’t know what he truly stands for.”
The bias of Russia’s media against him is a major problem for Zyuganov, but not his only one. He was confronted here by questions from voters who worried that a Communist government might close Russia’s borders or take away farmers’ private plots of land. He denied any such plans to restore Soviet-style rule.
But mostly his audiences were friendly and included some voters who welcomed his promises to bring back tuition-free education and prop up industry.
“I decided long ago to support Zyuganov,” said Dmitri Sidorov, 36, who no longer gets paid at his job at a state-owned factory that makes military supplies. “He says what the majority thinks. Since Yeltsin came to power, society has been radically divided [between rich and poor]. We no longer have any certainty about tomorrow.”
The former regional Communist propaganda chief appeared to have no appeal, however, with the youngest voters here.
“We don’t want to return to the past,” said Vadim Khrustalev, 19, one of scores of students who milled around during Zyuganov’s stump speech at their institute. Only about half seemed to pay attention.