DATE=3/28/2000 TYPE=U-S OPINION ROUNDUP TITLE=THE RUSSIAN ELECTION NUMBER=6-11749 BYLINE=ERIKA EVANS DATELINE=WASHINGTON EDITOR=ASSIGNMENTS TELEPHONE=619-2702 CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: Boris Yelstin was Russia's first freely elected national leader. Now Vladimir Putin becomes the second. Mr. Putin, who has served as acting president since Mr. Yelstin's resignation last year, was the victor in Sunday's presidential balloting and will be inaugurated in May. U-S newspaper editorials are filled with comment on the new leader and the future of Russia. We get a sampling now from ________________ in today's U-S Opinion Roundup. TEXT: When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, few would have predicted it would be succeeded by a Russian government adopting key features of Western- style democracy. Vladimir Putin, the 47-year-old former K-G-B intelligence agent, rode a high voter turnout to an absolute majority in this week's Russian election. In doing so, he avoided a runoff that would have been necessary had he gotten less than 50 percent of the vote. In general, U-S newspaper editorials considered the Russian election something to cheer about. We begin with the Press Herald of Portland, Maine, which believes the balloting showed shows Russia's constitution worked. VOICE: It was the vote itself, and not so much the win by Vladimir Putin, that was the real accomplishment. For the first time in history, a democratically elected president of Russia has been succeeded by another democratically elected president. That's no small achievement in a nation still roiled by internal disputes, a badly functioning proto-capitalist economy and crime rates so high they make Al Capone (EDS: American gangster of the 1920s and 1930s) look like a law-and-order fanatic. ... Still, the constitution that [Mr.] Yelstin created and put into effect has had its first real victory. Now the world waits to see if it will have more. TEXT: Many U-S editorial writers, however, find Russia's new leader puzzling and opinion is divided on just how effective Mr. Putin will be in leading the Russian people. The Miami Herald in Florida warns that if this vote is to mean anything, the new leader in Moscow had better devise a precise plan for Russia's future. VOICE: The bedeviling question is: Now that he has won the presidency in free and fair elections, can Mr. Putin deliver what the people clearly want? ... Thus far, Mr. Putin has issued only vague pledges about being committed to the program of economic and democratic reforms of his predecessor and mentor, President Boris Yelstin. ... Russians have invested their hopes for a better future in him. If he isn't to let those voters down -- and in so doing, deal a blow to democracy -- the new president had better deliver. TEXT: Also in Florida, the Orlando Sentinel argues that Mr. Putin should be given a fair chance to put his programs into action. VOICE: At the moment, Mr. Putin hasn't had much of a chance to do anything -- good or bad. He deserves the benefit of the doubt. Fortunately, he doesn't carry the taint of corruption that accompanies many Russian politicians. That, along with his religious convictions, gives him some moral authority. ... That he now, as president-elect, pledges to expand reforms suggests consistency and pragmatism -- as well as the potential to build U-S - Russia ties. TEXT: The Tulsa World in Oklahoma says the new Russian leader has the potential to lead his country into a brighter future. VOICE: Now the questions begin on just what kind of leader Vladimir Putin will be. He has been a hard-line K-G-B agent and still clings to the old values of order, discipline and a strong central government. He has been instrumental in the military crackdown in Chechnya. In fact, his Chechnya policy was instrumental in his election. But he also has democratic leanings. He has supported the "fundamental rights of human liberties." He doesn't seem tied to the old communist ideology. So, [Mr.] Putin begins his tenure with a clean slate -- or at least as clean as any Russian politician's slate can be. ... [Mr.] Putin could take Russia where neither Mikhail Gorbachev nor Boris Yelstin could -- to a stable, successful democracy. His first step was the election. Now, the really hard work begins. TEXT: And finally, the Oregonian in the Pacific Northwest says many challenges lie ahead for Russia's new leader, but that his election in free and fair balloting should help improve Moscow's relations with other nations. VOICE: Yes, big as these intertwined challenges are, the United States and Russia are joined together in a deeper and, we think, more hopeful way as a result of Sunday's Russian elections. Those elections were free and fair by all objective accounts, and this triumph of democracy gives a healthy perspective to the challenges Vladimir Putin faces. Really now, a corrupt and compromised political establishment, a weak economy, a draining war -- it's not as if incoming American presidents haven't faced similar challenges. TEXT: With that comment from the Oregonian, we conclude this sampling of comment on Russia's presidential election. NEB/ENE/JP 28-Mar-2000 16:29 PM EDT (28-Mar-2000 2129 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .