(Prague, Czech Republic--August 30, 2004) Sunday's presidential election in Chechnya was ostensibly a landslide victory for Alu Alkhanov, the Kremlin-backed candidate, but Chechens and experts interviewed by RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service say the voting was a sham, lacking any kind of legitimacy.
The service, broadcasting in Avar, Chechen and Circassian from RFE/RL's Broadcast Operations in Prague, devoted its one-hour daily original program on August 29 to a Chechen election special, with live reports from polling stations in three Chechen cities and interviews with rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov, Chechen electoral commission head Abdul-Kerim Arsakhanov, Russian law expert Vladimir Suvorov and Council of Europe Rapporteur on Chechnya Andreas Gross.
Arsakhanov declared Monday that, having received 74 percent of all votes cast, "Candidate Alu Alkhanov is the absolute and unapproachable leader" of Chechnya. Gross, on the other hand, said on RFE/RL's Sunday broadcast that Alkhanov, "Chechnya's new leader lacks legitimacy."
RFE/RL correspondents in the Chechen capital Grozny and cities of Argun and Gudermes in the south-east of Chechnya, reported there were no western election monitors at polling stations and that streets there and in other towns were deserted and abnormally quiet, with most people staying close to home, too fearful to venture out.
Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov said, in an exclusive interview with RFE/RL aired last night (August 29), that "Chechnya is at war right now. When a country is at war, no election can be held until the war is over."
Widespread doubts about the legitimacy of the election were reinforced by the fact that, according to the Chechen electoral commission, at least 24,000 Russian troops cast votes in the August 29 election. That is the official number Arsakhanov cited on RFE/RL's broadcast--but experts point out that an estimated 80,000 Russian troops are stationed in Chechnya and many more soldiers may have voted.
A Russian expert on constitutional law, Vladimir Suvorov of the Moscow-based Independent Legal Experts Council, told RFE/RL that a clause allowing non-residents to vote in a local or national election is a peculiarity of both the Russian Federal Election Law and the Chechen constitution adopted last year. "Any Russian citizen could have voted in Chechnya's presidential election," Suvorov said.
RFE/RL correspondents reported that pre-registration of voters was loosely observed, with late-comers being added to the voter lists with no difficulties on election day.
The RFE/RL North Caucasus Service broadcast to Chechnya today (August 30) is devoted to analysis of the election results and the reaction of Chechens in Grozny and elsewhere. Four RFE/RL correspondents on the ground in Chechnya are talking to those who voted and those who did not, as well as to experts and commentators outside Russia.
Aslan Doukaev, Director of the RFE/RL North Caucasus Service, says from Prague that many analysts see difficult times ahead for the new leader, who will have to assert his authority against entrenched rivals for power. Doukaev notes that Ramzan Kadyrov, son of the assassinated former Chechen president Akhmed Kadyrov, may be a formidable opponent. Although only 27 years old, he controls thousands of troops personally loyal to his family. The new president, Alu Alkhanov, belongs to the same clan and both he and Ramzan are Putin's men. "This will be a family quarrel," says Doukaev.
RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service broadcasts 2 hours of programming a day in the Avar, Chechen and Circassian languages to the North Caucasus region, produced in Prague and transmitted to listeners via satellite and shortwave signals provided by local affiliate stations. North Caucasus Service programming is also available via the Internet, at www.rferl.org