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Western-style ad blitz kicks off Russian campaign season

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May 16, 1996
Web posted at: 7:30 a.m. EDT (1130 GMT)

From Correspondent Eileen O'Connor

MOSCOW (CNN) -- With Russia's presidential elections exactly a month away as of Wednesday, the candidates have officially kicked off their television campaigns.

Some of the advertisements are slick, and some are boring, but all reflect the personalities of the candidates. The question in campaign headquarters is how much of an effect the political ad campaigns will have on a traditionally suspicious Russian electorate.

"There is a real holdover from the Communist time, when the central media was the specific mouthpiece of the government and the Communist Party," said Peter Mahoney of the Russian-American Press Center.

Zhirinovsky

Eight free 10-minute slots were allocated by lottery for each candidate, guaranteeing that every candidate will get some air time. Carefully constructed ads running on purchased time contrast sharply with the cheaply made campaign ads running on donated time.

Boris Yeltsin's ads depict a military man on a pension and able to build his own home, "proof" that Yeltsin has provided the new Russian dream to many. His feel-good slogan, "I believe, I love, I hope," wraps up the theme of his campaign.

Not all Russians have realized the Russian dream. Communists play on their fears, their anger at the loss of social guarantees. Gennady Zyuganov promises in his ads that he will restore guaranteed employment, guaranteed pay, and above all the past glory of the superpower. "I believe Russia will rise again," his slogan goes.

Yeltsin

Ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky plays on the failings of both the Communists and the Democrats. "We don't need a collapsing and decaying Russia. We need a new Russia, a new course, a new policy," his ads proclaim.

As in the United States, there is a group of candidates who play up the fact that they are political outsiders. In Russia, this same group lays claim to strong nationalist beliefs.

Grigory Yavlinsky, for example, depicts himself as an average hard-working guy, bent on listening to no one, bent on saving Russia.

Alexander Lebed, unique among campaigners, promises not to promise a thing. "I don't play that game," he says in his ads.

But the man with the least to gain from the ads is the man who already controls most of the airwaves: the incumbent, President Boris Yeltsin. Even the independent media is throwing their lot behind him, with or without ads. As president, he is getting air time.

Zyuganov

"In the past you could go for weeks and sometimes months without ever seeing Yeltsin's face on television, and now you see it virtually every night," Mahoney said.

The "electronic" period of Russia's presidential campaign lasts exactly one month, from May 14 to June 14, excluding weekends. Russian law also provides one full day of complete campaign silence, June 15, so that voters can think about the issues.

The Russian electorate is believed to associate advertising with propaganda. The candidates will have to determine how much is enough to get their message across, and how much is too much.

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