DATE=3/20/2000 TYPE=BACKGROUND REPORT TITLE=RUSSIA / SIBERIA / ELECTION - PART ONE NUMBER=5-45683 BYLINE=EVE CONANT DATELINE=KEMEROVO, SIBERIA CONTENT= VOICED AT: /// ED'S: THE FIRST OF THREE REPORTS FROM SIBERIA BEFORE RUSSIA'S PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION SUNDAY, MARCH 26TH /// INTRO: With a popularity rating of nearly 50-percent, Russia's acting President Vladimir Putin is expected to win the country presidential election Sunday, March 26th. But as Correspondent Eve Conant reports from Kemerovo, in southern Siberia, many voters say they are not impressed by what they see as the Kremlim's choice for a new leader. TEXT: /// OPT // NATURAL STREET SOUNDS - FADE UNDER /// /// OPT /// At the foot of the gigantic Lenin statue that dominates the main square of Kemerovo is a large banner that reads: Russian presidential elections - vote on March 26th. ///END OPT /// Kemerevo is in the heart of southern Siberia, and the heart of Russia's coal industry. Monuments to miners killed in accidents are scattered throughout the city, and it is hard to find anyone here who is not in some way connected to the coalmines. The weather is warming after a long Siberian winter, and female road workers use pickaxes to chip away at the thick ice embedded on the sidewalk. /// SOUND OF SMASHING SIDEWALK ICE - FADE UNDER /// Near the main square is the city's university. Its dean is Yuri Zakharov, but he is rarely seen at classes these days because his other job -- running the campaign headquarters for Vladimir Putin -- is taking over his life. /// OPT // ZAKHAROV ACT ONE - IN RUSSIAN - FADE UNDER TRANSLATION /// In the last elections I voted for the Communists, not for Yeltsin. But Yeltsin has apologized for his mistakes, and I think his guilt has forced him to choose a strong heir to fix the problems he created. /// END ACT // END OPT /// The elderly professor with his thick glasses can most often be seen riding around town a gray Volga, wearing his brown rabbit hat and smoking thin white cigarettes. Each day, he delivers lectures to students, workers, and as many locals as he can to drum up even more support for Mr. Putin. /// SOUND OF CROWDED HALL - FADE UNDER /// This day he is preaching to workers at the "Xim-Mash" (HIM-mash) chemical factory. /// ZAKHAROV ACT TWO - IN RUSSIAN - FADE UNDER TRANSLATION /// There have been a lot of reports swirling around trying to scare people. That Putin is from the security services, he will be an authoritarian ruler. There is also the fear that he is an unknown. He has just come out from nowhere, being handed power from the hands of Yeltsin or big business. He is in a cloud of mystery. /// END ACT /// The auditorium is crowed with factory workers in dirty overalls - their blackened hands holding white pamphlets about Mr. Putin, their work goggles pulled up on the tops of their heads as they take a work break to listen to Mr. Zakharov's speech. /// ZAKHAROV ACT THREE - IN RUSSIAN - FADE UNDER TRANSLATION /// Yes, he was an officer of the K-G-B. For nearly 20-years he engaged in espionage. But he was not involved with the gulags, or with eavesdropping on Russian citizens. He is from the elite. /// END ACT /// But the crowd is not impressed. At the far end of the room, a factory worker stands up and asks Mr. Zakharov to explain a few finer points of concern. /// OPT // WORKER ACT - IN RUSSIAN - FADE UNDER /// He asks if Mr. Putin really was the administration's top choice or was he the last choice left to the Kremlin? Another worker rises to his feet and asks angrily why he and other workers should bother trusting Mr. Putin or anyone else. /// END OPT /// /// WORKER ACT - IN RUSSIAN - FADE UNDER TRANSLATION /// Putin is travelling all over Russia telling pensioners and workers he will give them more money. Where is he getting this money? The International Monetary Fund has already given up on us and all the government can take from us now are the coats off our backs. /// END ACT /// The worker, 41-year-old Gennady Sadovsky, wears a ski cap to keep warm in the cold auditorium, and since this is the middle of the day, he is covered with black smudges from the machinery he has been working on. As the crowd breaks up, he explains why he was not impressed. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a dirty plastic bag. Inside is his pay slip. /// SOUND PLASTIC BAG AND WORKER TALKING - FADE /// He says he works eight-hours a day and earns just more than 40-dollars a month. He says he will vote for Grigory Yavlinski, a Moscow liberal many expect will finish third in the race. He says that at least Mr. Yavlinski, so far, has stuck to his principles, unlike any of the rest. He says Mr. Putin is controlled by big business. In other parts of the Kemerovo region, many agree that the Kremlin is a far-away place and changes there are not likely to affect life in Siberia. /// REST OPT /// Prokopievsk is one the region's most economically hard hit towns -- many of the coal mines have shut down, unemployment is rampant, and the environment is so polluted the snow sometimes falls from the sky in gray-colored flakes. Factory worker Yuri Patrai says he will vote against Putin. /// PATRAI ACT - IN RUSSIAN - FADE UNDER /// He asks - Why are they forcing Putin on us? He says he is capable of forming his own opinion, and that is the main reason he will not vote for the acting president. He says he does not like Mr. Putin's politics. He says - Putin only made it to a colonel's rank, he is a nothing. Only one person in, what even locals describe as their - dismal town, seems happy. Thirty-year-old Andrei was just released from prison four-days ago and is enjoying his first taste of freedom. /// ANDREI ACT - IN RUSSIAN - FADE UNDER /// He says - for Putin, even though we were in jail, we were all for him. Andrei is not paying attention yet to how his hometown has fallen apart during his six-year sentence or how he might find work when so many around him are unemployed. (SIGNED) NEB/EC/JWH/RAE 20-Mar-2000 08:45 AM EDT (20-Mar-2000 1345 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .