Boris Yeltsin has defied political forecasts by apparently endearing
himself to the Russian electorate with his ‘warts and all’ approach at
the same time as shifting the blame to others, says public affairs
consultant Hugh Colver
So John Major, now you know. As an incumbent of high office, dependent
on the vagaries of democratic process, all you need when under threat at
election time is a history of behaving badly in public, constant
suggestions that you are ‘with drink’ on state occasions, a consistent
and apparently near terminal health problem, and a penchant for goosing
female staff in public.
And then, under the Yeltsin rules, just when everyone thinks you are
still going to lose, you sideline trusted allies close enough to be
tennis and drinking partners in favour of one of the candidates standing
against you. Oh, and I nearly forgot, you have to be fighting a bloody
internal war, and fail to pay your civil servants because tax revenues
are 40 per cent below projections.
Boris Yeltsin’s now near certain victory in the Russian presidential
election is a remarkable story. Received wisdom not so long ago was that
the country would return to a kind of Communism. The people had had
quite enough of reform, it was said, and wanted to get back to the
‘certainties’ of the old regime.
Yet Yeltsin has won through and we should look at his formula. His
success has, after all, not happened by chance and the techniques have
really been quite simple.
He has cashed in on the simple fact that, despite it all, most people
could not bring themselves to vote for a return to the old order. And
because 70 years of Soviet propaganda has made the Russian electorate
one of the most sceptical in the world, Yeltsin adopted the warts and
all approach. He gave the voters a sense of where he wanted the country
to go and he talked about his failure to deliver.
Except that he did not quite do it himself. He put up senior and
respected supporters to do it. That way there appeared to be a touch of
honesty but somehow the blame attached itself to others. He threw up the
spectre of old Communism, talked about his aspirations and rehearsed the
difficulties along the way, wringing his hands a touch at the failures.
Is there a message here for someone closer to home? It was Oliver
August, writing in the Times on 14 June, who said: ‘If you can win
elections with an economic record like Yeltsin’s, who needs a feel good
Answers on a postcard.