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October 3rd 2003 · Prague Watchdog / Musa Tumsoyev · PRINTER FRIENDLY FORMAT · E-MAIL THIS · ALSO AVAILABLE IN: RUSSIAN 

Chechnya: Electing a Sole Candidate

Musa Tumsoyev, special to Prague Watchdog

The March 23 referendum reinforced the Russian status of Chechnya and the upcoming Chechen presidential elections, which are also organized by the Kremlin, are expected to establish the authority of the Russian Chechen Republic (RChR). At present, Chechnya finds itself in a situation where the legitimate power of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria has not yet been made illegitimate and the illegitimate power of the RChR has not yet been legitimized.

Destined to be elected

In Chechnya no one seriously talks about the presidential elections as a democratic process; people mainly discuss the consequences that will result from the election of the Kremlin's candidate. In Russia, power has long been delegated to Kremlin appointees who become heads of regions through staged elections.

For some time now Chechens have been waiting to see whether the Kremlin would change its choice. These expectations were mainly based on the continuing standoff between Russian and Chechen armed forces and the inability of the Moscow-backed administration to curb crimes committed by illegal gangs. However, rather than counting on individual political figures to provide security, the Kremlin concentrated on the candidate’s loyalty to Russian power, regardless of local influence.

Bets on the upcoming election have been placed on the current head of the Russian administration in Chechnya (officials have long referred to his position as “the acting president of the Chechen Republic”). All speculations ended once President Vladimir Putin announced that Akhmat Kadyrov would be a member of the Russian delegation in the United Nations, since a Chechen could only become part of this delegation if he were president of the republic.

Destined to be candidates

The presidential candidates were selected to create an impression of political competition and alternatives. While there were no serious challengers to the front-runner, there were several lightweights among them whose roles primarily consisted of preserving the notion that there were other choices. Meanwhile, their role includes also canvassing relatives and friends to vote for the “ordained” front-runner.

Out of the eleven presidential candidates, Hussein Jabrailov was the first to bow out of the race. Even though he was the brother of a well-known Chechen entrepreneur, Umar Jabrailov, (who once ran for the Russian presidency), his withdrawal had no influence on the campaign. Nevertheless, he managed to promote himself as an independent and financially self-supportive figure. In other words, the republic has yet another Chechen entrepreneur with political ambitions.

Aslambek Aslakhanov’s eventual refusal to participate in the elections is understandable. From personal experience with the campaign for the State Duma, Russia's lower house, he knows that under present conditions the will of the voters in Chechnya is insignificant. So by being offered the post of Russian President's Aide with unspecified responsibilities, he dropped out as well.

Nevertheless, he successfully played the role assigned him by the Kremlin politicians, despite definitely losing the respect of the Chechen populace. Even Aslakhanov’s statement that he had been the first Chechen to occupy such a high position within the Russian hierarchy did not satisfy the people. And the supposed elation achieved from his appointment seems especially unconvincing in these days of continuing conflict.

The third person knocked out of the presidential race was Malik Saidullayev, who was considered to be Kadyrov’s most serious rival. It was obvious to everyone that his intentions were tied to the Kremlin and until recently, he had hoped that the bet would be placed on him.

However, for those who have not yet crossed themselves off the register of candidates, there is a controlled court system in Chechnya. The Supreme Court of the republic disavowed Saidullayev as a candidate in the Kremlin-controlled election show for fear of undermining the mechanism that the Kremlin refers to as a “political resolution of the crisis in Chechnya.”

Saidullayev’s exit based on this verdict may well be convenient for him: He could now say that he wanted to become president in order to establish peace and prosperity in Chechnya, of which he has now been deprived.

Eliminating well-known people from the register of candidates was immediately followed by other resignations, which in this sprint for the presidency means very little. Among the remaining candidates whose surnames can still be remembered by the citizens of the republic is a former Deputy to the Supreme Soviet of Chechnya-Ingushetia, Abdullah Bugayev. He was registered as an unemployed candidate because recently he left the post of Federal Inspector of the Southern Federal Region. Thanks to his participation in the elections, it is quite likely that he will eventually receive a desired position.

Destined to be the Electorate

A week before the "elections," intensive advertising is underway. Yet posters of only one candidate can be displayed throughout the republic. Administrative and other resources also operate in favor of that one candidate, as he is the only one designated for electronic and printed media. Even President Putin joined the PR campaign for Kadyrov.

Very few voters are able to notice the election staffs of other candidates. Therefore, no one talks about real campaigning. However, it must be noted that in the final outcome, none of these candidates will actually lose anything; and so they’ll continue to act in this political farce.

Everyone who is determined to go to the polls is ready to vote for the only candidate known to them. In Chechnya, some part of the populace is destined to be the electorate. However, the result of the election does not depend wholly on them; they are only needed by the authorities for the formal process known as “democratic election.”

Having been lulled by pre-election promises of the Russian authorities, Chechens are anxious to receive compensation for damaged houses and lost property, whose payment started shortly before the election day. And their gratitude is to be expressed to one of the candidates. The electors are expected to make the right choice because in such a case the payment of compensations could continue. The most important thing is to receive these payments before the election day for as soon as that’s over, there will be no further need for the electorate.

Election results will be counted on October 6 - and there is no doubt who will be the winner. No one will also bother to dispute the outcome. But even if there are some doubts, it will not change anything for the most important thing here is the result. The figures of the March "referendum" were not disputed even though nobody believed them; and the same thing applies to this "presidential election".

Musa Tumsoyev is a regular contributor to Prague Watchdog.

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