Russia entangled in ballot confusion Plethora of parties: Russia's tentative steps toward a more democratic form of government have spawned a multitude of political parties and an electorate thoroughly bewildered by the array.


MOSCOW -- Behind the vinyl-padded, triple-locked apartment

doors at 9 Slavyansky Blvd. lies one of the biggest problems of Russia's parliamentary election season: confusion.

Campaign workers from no fewer than 67 registered political parties are knocking on doors at buildings like this one every evening, trying to coax from the electorate the 200,000 signatures each of the parties needs by Oct. 22 to qualify for December elections to the Duma, as parliament is called.

Between the doors answered by barking guard dogs, scolding grandmothers and drunken men of the house at 9 Slavyansky, signature collector Eduard Glezin hears a constant theme: There are too many parties, and no one is quite sure what any party stands for.

Mr. Glezin, a neat and courteous college student who is paid 30 cents for each signature he gets for the right-wing capitalist party Yabloko, knocks on apartment No. 127.

A portly pensioner overcomes her fear of the dark hallway to throw open her door and fling a piece of her mind at this new democratic system.

"How many parties are there?" she demands. "I can't keep track."

Not that she doesn't know what she wants.

A former savings officer at a bank, she supports quick capitalist reforms that will revive the economy and make her pension rubles worth something.

But when asked what the parties stand for, she gives an "are you kidding?" toss of her head and says all candidates seem so much alike that it would be hard to say whether anyone is right, left or center. If these candidates constitute the political spectrum, she says, then she's in limbo.

Americans may feel the earth is shaking because Ross Perot is challenging the two-party system. But consider this nation's bewildering move away from the one-party system that prevailed in the old Soviet Union.

Elections used to mean being handed a ballot with only one candidate for office from the only party in the country -- the Communist Party.

Today the political scene is dizzying.

Parties form blocs. They defect from blocs and form new blocs. Politicians come and go. And all this movement constantly crosses ideological boundaries.

For example, in a Kremlin-inspired effort to reduce the political spectrum to something closer to the Western democratic model, the speaker of the Duma tried to bring his Agrarian party -- which has flip-flopped on the crucial issue of private land ownership -- into a left-of-center bloc this summer.

He failed to make the bloc work, and the Agrarians moved back leftward toward the Communists. The Communists no longer completely oppose private land ownership and a market economy, which means that on this issue they aren't pure Communists.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Viktor S. Chernomyrdin formed the right-of-center bloc, named Our Home is Russia; it supports moderate market economic reforms and is supposed to support President Boris N. Yeltsin, who officially belongs to no party.

And the far right is composed of a smattering of ex-Yeltsin economic advisers and officials who support strong capitalistic reforms.

And still further, there are nationalist groups that stay on the fringes. But even there, an overlap exists. Take Vladimir V. Zhirinovsky, the storming anti-Semitic, nationalistic, breast-beater of the so-called Liberal Democratic Party.

He has largely voted centrist throughout his Duma term -- and failed to vote against the Chernomyrdin government when a vote of confidence was taken this summer.

To try to sort things out for voters, Kommersant Daily -- the Wall Street Journal of Russia -- published a full broadsheet devoted to dissection of the Russian political spectrum because, it said: "The main difficulty Russian voters face in December will be to understand which is left and which is right."

By most counts there are 250 groups -- parties, unions, blocs, movements -- that call themselves participants in the coming election for the 450-seat Duma.

The names of these groups are as specific as Auto Owners of Russia, Beer Lovers Party, Popular Christian Monarchists Party, Women of Russia.

Or as vague as Our Home is Russia; Peace, Good and Happiness; Onward, Russia! and the Apple Bloc.

Election officials say that 67 parties and blocs have registered to collect signatures that would qualify them to put their own candidates on the ballot.

NTC The Duma is composed of 225 seats for directly elected candidates from regional districts, plus 225 seats to be shared among parties that win at least 5 percent of the vote nationally.

"Dangerous" is the word several political analysts and politicians use to describe this political arithmetic.

Ludmila Telen, deputy editor-in-chief of the Moscow News, explains it this way:

"First, there are too many parties. And second, the platforms [of parties] are so close that it's difficult for voters to understand the differences in parties.

"This means that people are likely to be voting for personality and not programs. And when a voter does vote for ideological purposes, probably the only one they know well is the Communist Party."

Ms. Telen explains that no one really expects all 67 registered groups to get the signatures they need to be on the ballot, but between 10 and 20 will succeed.

If Russian voters cast their ballots broadly -- that is, if their support is divided among a large number of parties -- the majority of votes could be spread among parties that don't make the 5 percent threshold. The handful of parties that do get more than 5 percent of the national vote will end up dominating the Duma, even though none of those will have won a true majority.

In 1993, of 13 parties that made it onto the Duma election ballot, only eight broke the 5 percent barrier.

The Communist Party of the Russian Federation is expected to reap the benefits of the situation. Unlike most other parties, it has an identifiable ideology amid the confusion, and its ideology harks back to more secure economic times than today.

The same goes for single-seat district voting, says Vladimir Bauer, an incumbent Duma member of the capitalist right wing.

"It's absurd to consider this election's number of parties. But the reason is, Russia is moving from a one-party state to a multiparty state," says Mr. Bauer, who faced only six competitors when he ran in his district of Tomsk in 1993. He now faces 23.

The confusion voters face, though, is not necessarily going to be reflected in the work of a new Duma, analysts say.

For example, the current Duma, with eight large party blocs and two or three shifting blocs of directly elected deputies, is not as divided as the numbers suggest. In practice, it divides fairly predictably into pros, cons and compromisers on almost any question before the body.

As one Duma aide explains, the legislature has successfully mustered the two-thirds majority to veto the president on several occasions and has not found it particularly difficult to achieve the compromise necessary to produce laws.

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