Yet another "election" in Chechnya (weekly review)
By Dzhambulat Are
GROZNY, Chechnya – Although elections have become an empty formality in Russia, some of the details relating to the election campaign in Chechnya are interesting, because they illustrate the dominant political tendencies in the country.
Various experts have long expressed the view that the Kremlin sees the model of a two-party parliamentary system as the most preferable one. Indeed, in many Russian regions the road to legislative power is closed not only to the opposition parties but also to those political forces which are either traditionally pro-Kremlin, like Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s LDPR, or those which, like the Communists, have a small but stable electoral base of support.
Chechnya is obviously a convenient testing-ground for the new parliamentary model, as this republic is capable, without much fuss, of producing any results that may be ordered from the top.
Whatever his other defects, even Ramzan Kadyrov’s most vehement critics can hardly accuse him of presiding over political chaos. The results of the election were clear in advance, and presidential advisor Timur Aliyev was able to predict the exact percentage of the result that would be obtained by the ruling party, especially as that party did not bother to hide its intentions. In an interview with Argumenty i fakty, Aliyev said: "United Russia has set itself the task of winning at least 90 % of the vote in the Chechen parliamentary elections. And I believe it will (plus or minus a few percentage points) – after all, the Chechen branch of the party is led by Ramzan Kadyrov. It’s possible that the Fair Russia party may also get some seats in the parliament.”
And so it was: United Russia took 88.4 % of the vote, while Fair Russia took 9.2 %. Translated into parliamentary seats, this represented a ratio of 37 to 4.
However, the conditions under which the experiment was conducted were not exactly perfect. As a rule, Kadyrov is not too much concerned about which parties are included in the parliament, as in Chechnya they can only be distinguished by their names. People become party functionaries according to directives issued by the presidential bureaucracy, and not because of their convictions or the inclinations of their hearts. In the Chechen context it is therefore no easy matter to track the mechanism that dictates the actual interaction between the two Kremlin parties. But it is unlikely that anyone confronted Kadyrov with such a task.
Some attention was focused on Ramzan Kadyrov’s joke, made two days before the vote, that the turnout at the polling stations would be 100 %,“or even higher”. Igor Borisov, a central electoral commission official who had apparently taken the Chechen president’s statement at face value, went public with the argument that because of certain technical factors a turnout in excess of 100 % was perfectly possible.
The probability of the most miraculous transformations of the voting figures in the republic was indeed quite high. It turned out that the polls were attended by more than 95 % of the voters on the electoral list. Experts on voting procedure say that such figures are a complete fantasy, especially if one takes into account the fact that there was a major earthquake in the republic on the day before the vote. According to Russia’s ministry of emergency situations, the earthquake, measuring up to six points on the Richter scale at its epicentre, destroyed some 400 homes, killed twelve people and injured more than a hundred. The republic had not experienced earth tremors on such a scale since 1974. And yet it was Kurchaloysky district, the one most affected by the disaster, which showed some of the highest polling figures.
Until a few years ago all elections in Chechnya were held under the close scrutiny of journalists and human rights workers, who described the empty polling stations and the absolute unwillingness of people to take part in the formal procedure of voting, which had no effect on anything. Today we see a loss of interest in this type of inspection, and in the exposure of the giant discrepancy between the statements of the authorities and the actual situation on the ground. In a sense, the authorities have won. They can do whatever they want, and their opponents simply give up: "It’s not possible to change anything!"
The earthquake coincided with another of the celebrations organized by Ramzan Kadyrov. On Saturday, thousands of people gathered on the outskirts of Gudermes to watch a day of horse racing in honour of Vladimir Putin’s birthday. At that point the earthquake began. However, the event was brought to a successful conclusion because the tremors in the area of the race track were not too severe. Once again the Chechen leader noted Putin’s inestimable role in the building of Chechen statehood, though he did not forget to mention such Russian public figures as Dmitry Medvedev, Rashid Nurgaliyev and Vladimir Ustinov.
"Thanks to these patriots,” Kadyrov said, “the whole world has begun to take Russia seriously. The country was looted and humiliated by pseudo-democrats of all stripes. But these men have led Russia to its current high position in the world community."
Despite this background of lofty patriotism, the horses from the United States achieved the best results (according to the official information on the web site of the President and Government of the Chechen Republic).
The photograph is borrowed from the website of the Russian Embassy in Belgium.
Previous weekly reviews can be read at http://www.watchdog.cz/weekly.
(Translation by DM)
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