Cause for Concern

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 December, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 December, 1995, 12:00am

THE Communist Party's success in Russia's parliamentary elections can hardly fail to cause concern to a world which rejoiced in its downfall, and the collapse of the Soviet Union, only five years ago.

Amid signs the reform process has gone adrift, these results will raise fears that the new Duma (parliament), dominated by communists and ultra-nationalists, may now try to block all further moves to a free-market economy. Even worse is the possibility that communist leader Gennady Zyuganov stands a chance of winning June's presidential poll.

There is little cause for such alarmist forecasts as yet. The Russian parliament lacks any real power to challenge President Boris Yeltsin's administration. Such results are part of a common trend within the former Soviet bloc. Angry voters have turned against the free-market reformers whose policies have caused so much pain and now recall, with nostalgia, only the bright side of life under one-party rule. The problem is that Russia's communists have yet to distance themselves as clearly from their past as their East European counterparts, who have returned to power in several countries boasting impeccable social democratic credentials. Instead Mr Zyuganov has pledged to rebuild the former Soviet Union. In parliament, such antics can do little harm. The real danger comes next June. The 20 per cent who voted communist in these polls are far from a convincing mandate for Mr Zyuganov's presidential aspirations. But they do push him to the front of a race where there are few credible options.

With Mr Yeltsin deeply unpopular and the reformists hopelessly divided, the fear must be the presidential contest may become a choice between Mr Zyuganov and the equally unpalatable ultra-nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

But that is still many months away. These election results may be cause for concern - but they should not yet give rise to any serious alarm about a return to a path which the world hopes Russia has left firmly in the past.