Russia tries to 'rock' the youth vote

May 31, 1996
Web posted at: 8:00 a.m. EDT (1200 GMT)

From Reporter Steve McNally

MOSCOW (CNN) -- A major battle is being waged for the votes of Russia's young people, who make up 12 percent of the total electorate.

Although a new poll from the independent Public Opinion Foundation, released Thursday, gave incumbent president Boris Yeltsin a substantial lead, Yeltsin was more or less tied with Communist candidate Gennady Zyuganov the week before. If the election were held today, Yeltsin would get 34 percent of the vote, and Zyuganov 22.

Choose or Lose

With such close margins, getting every eligible voter into the polls can make a difference. Last December, at the time of Russia's parliamentary elections, a TV show known as "Vkluchees," or "Plug In," was begun as part of a campaign to get 18- to 25-year-olds interested in the democratic process. Its message was simple: If the young want politicians to pay attention to them, they've got to come out and vote.

tv show

The program was endorsed by Russia's electoral commission because it was non-partisan, and it was intended to return to the airwaves for the presidential election in June. But it may not make it back because a new kid on the block is eclipsing its simple, pro-democracy product.

The new guys: "Choose or Lose." The program is more hip, and more glossy. Based on a show aired by MTV in the United States, it features Russia's biggest stars, and is on national television every night.

The men behind the big-budget production are among the richest and most influential in Russia's new upper class. They are pouring millions into the show and a series of some 300 rock concerts, they say, to promote democracy.

Choose or Lose

Sponsors say that "Choose or Lose" has essentially the same goal as "Plug In:" to "awaken young people and tell them that they have the possibility to vote and that they should go and vote."

The problem is that unlike "Plug In," their show tells young people which way to vote. It's bitterly anti-Communist and subtly endorses incumbent President Boris Yeltsin, putting musicians on the air to say things like, "We musicians have chosen. We support our president."

"Choose or Lose" has eclipsed its politically neutral rival so much that the "Plug In" budget has been slashed. Russia's electoral commission thinks it is now redundant.


This issue illustrates a larger problem some Democrats have with the Yeltsin campaign. While the president is held up as a staunch defender of fair elections and a free press, his side has, on several occasions, compromised both in order to preserve his power.

Some justify his tactics, saying democracy in Russia needs all the help it can get. "We have to support those roots of democracy by victimizing -- for a time -- objectivity and the non-partisan approach," said Alexei Pushkov of Russian State TV.

Clearly, Yeltsin believes this, insisting that he is the only hope for democracy's survival in Russia. It remains to be seen whether the voters agree.

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