DATE=2/25/2000 TYPE=BACKGROUND REPORT TITLE=RUSSIA ELECTION PREVIEW NUMBER=5-45522 BYLINE=PETER HEINLEIN DATELINE=MOSCOW CONTENT= VOICED AT: /// EDS: RUSSIA'S PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION IS MARCH 26TH /// INTRO: Russia's presidential election is just one month away, and there is hardly any sign of a contest. In sharp contrast to the 1996 election, won by Boris Yeltsin after a hard-fought campaign, this time the outcome is a foregone conclusion. The only question is whether acting President Vladimir Putin will win in the first round or in a runoff. V-O-A Moscow correspondent Peter Heinlein previews an election in which there are 11 candidates, but only one with any chance of winning. TEXT: /// WOMEN SELLING GOODS ON THE STREET - FADE UNDER /// People on the streets of Moscow these bitterly cold days have other things on their mind than politics. Sixty-four-year-old Anna Meshkova is bundled up against a biting snowstorm, trying to earn a few rubles by selling pickled cabbage to passersby. Asked about the race for the presidency, or the lack of one, she explains that she lived most of her life in the Soviet Union. There, she says, voters had a choice of only one candidate. Ms. Meshkova suggests that after years of what many saw as permissive rule under President Boris Yeltsin, Russians are yearning for a return to a strong hand in the Kremlin. /// MESHKOVA ACT ONE - IN RUSSIAN - FADE TO TRANSLATOR /// We are just illiterate people. How can we elect anybody? All we want is to live a better life. /// END ACT /// Ms. Meshkova says nearly ten years after the collapse of Soviet communism, people of her generation still have not experienced the advantages of democracy. She says for most Russians, the quality of life just keeps getting worse. /// MESHKOVA ACT TWO - IN RUSSIAN - FADE TO TRANSLATOR /// Democracy led us all to very bad things. We have bandits, drug addicts, alcoholics who drink and don't work. Plants and factories don't work. What democracy is that? /// END ACT /// Ms. Meshkova stops in mid-thought, as if remembering the past, then asks, "Oh, could I be shot for giving this interview?" In towns and cities across Russia, opinions such as Ms. Meshkova's are widely held. There seems to be little objection to the belief that the outcome of next month's presidential election is pre-determined. Political analyst Alan Rousso of the Moscow Carnegie Center says even though Acting President Putin has revealed very little of himself or his political agenda, many people see him as a person who can restore Russia's damaged pride. /// ROUSSO ACT /// His popularity is based on people's need to feel the country is on the way back up, need to feel that the country has strong leadership, need to feel that after having been humiliated and embarrassed not only by its loss in the Cold War, but its failure to transit to some other kind of country, that they can restore their place as a great power. /// END ACT /// That kind of feeling is widely held among middle aged and elderly Russians. Many, like 74-year old Valentina Pavlovna, believe the country is best ruled with an iron fist. /// PAVLOVNA ACT - IN RUSSIAN - FADE TO TRANSLATOR /// I have only positive feelings toward Putin. He is strict. Even Communist leader Zyuganov is afraid of him. /// END ACT /// But the prospect of a return to authoritarian Kremlin leadership is beginning to worry some Russians. Many say they will simply stay away from the polls as a protest. Among them is 53-year-old former Soviet Air Force officer Semyon Semyonovich. He says the rise to power of a Yeltsin protege like Vladimir Putin only confirms the divide between haves and have-nots. /// SEMYONOVICH ACT - IN RUSSIAN - FADE TO TRANSLATOR /// Three percent of the people have everything, and the rest have nothing. Of course, it is impossible to go back to the old order, but there is nobody to vote for. He will be elected anyway. I can vote or not. It won't change anything. /// END ACT /// Thirty-four-year-old Galina Lyutikova agrees. She says it looks just like old times coming back. /// LYUTIKOV ACT - IN RUSSIAN - FADE UNDER /// She says, "Frankly, the election situation is frightening." Then she adds, "I am afraid for the future." With one month to go before the vote, cautious political analysts are reminding over-eager journalists of the old saying "It's not over till it's over." But in this case, where one candidate so dominates the political scene, even other candidates are grudgingly admitting that unless something completely unexpected happens, this election is over. (Signed) NEB/PFH/JWH/KL 25-Feb-2000 14:00 PM EDT (25-Feb-2000 1900 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .