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Monday, 20 December, 1999, 17:56 GMT
Analysis: Putin, next stop president?
Vladimir Putin: being tough on Chechnya has brought political dividends
Vladimir Putin: Tough image brought political dividends
By BBC News Online's Stephen Mulvey

The result of Russia's general election could hardly have been better for the country's prime minister and presidential hopeful, Vladimir Putin.

Russia at the Polls
What's at stake
Who's who
Russia's regions
The two surprise successes of the election - for the Unity party, and the Union of Right Wing Forces - have both come about as a result of Mr Putin's overwhelming popularity.

Unity was formed only three months ago to provide a support base for the Kremlin inside the parliament. Despite a low-profile leader in Minister for Emergencies Sergey Shoygu, it has succeeded spectacularly well.

In a short time it has become the principal rival to the long-established Communist Party, which has dominated the last parliament.

Left in decline

Though the Communists are likely to remain the largest single parliamentary faction, for the first time they will be outnumbered by representatives of centrist and pro-reform parties.

The result appears to confirm the decline of the Left in Russian politics, which began with Boris Yeltsin's defeat of the Communist leader, Gennady Zyuganov, in the presidential elections of 1996.

The Union of Right Wing Forces, led by former Prime Minister Sergey Kiriyenko, has exceeded all expectations - apparently merely by backing Mr Putin for the presidency and putting pictures of him in its pre-election advertisements. It is in fourth place.

Presidential launch-pad

Communists will no longer dominate parliament
Communists will no longer dominate parliament
The success of the pro-Putin parties provides a launch-pad for the prime minister's presidential election campaign and boosts prospects for co-operation between president and parliament on economic reform.

The leading centrist party, Fatherland-All Russia, lagged far behind Unity and the Communists, dealing a blow to the presidential hopes of its leader, former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov.

Mr Primakov's partner at the head of the alliance, the Mayor of Moscow, Yury Luzhkov, blamed the Kremlin's aggressive campaign tactics for the disappointing result.

Yury Luzhkov accused the Kremlin of playing dirty
Yury Luzhkov accused the Kremlin of playing dirty
"By their unprecedentedly dirty campaign the authorities again got the result they wanted," he told reporters.

The relationship between the Kremlin and the new parliament is likely to be better than in the past, but it is unlikely to be warm.

Although the Kremlin will now have a sizeable group of supporters in parliament, if the election campaign is anything to go by Fatherland-All Russia will behave as an opposition party.

In the last parliament, the Yabloko party was sometimes the government's harshest critic, despite its pro-reform programme.

Communist spokesmen have said that they aim to forge alliances with both parties.

The other party sure of a significant slice of the new parliament is led by the ultra-nationalist, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, and is in fifth place, just ahead of Yabloko. It has a record of supporting the government on key votes.

Chechnya key factor

Mr Putin's huge appeal to voters rests largely on the success of the Russian military in Chechnya.

If the operation ends successfully in the next few months he appears to be on course for certain victory in June's presidential election.

However, if the conflict in Chechnya begins to go badly, or Russia is again struck by a wave of terrorist attacks, all this could change.

His rival for the presidency Mr Primakov could still stage a comeback.

See also:

20 Dec 99 | Europe
19 Dec 99 | Europe
20 Dec 99 | Media reports
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13 Dec 99 | Europe
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