On October 12, Chechens will go to the polls to elect a new one-chamber parliament. There is little doubt that the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party will win a majority, if not all, of the 41 mandates, primarily because many voters are afraid to register opposition to republic head Ramzan Kadyrov, who heads the Unified Russia party list of 61 candidates.
In keeping with Kadyrov's insistence on authoritarian micromanagement, the election campaign has been stage-managed down to the smallest detail to create the semblance of a democratic process while leaving nothing to chance -- or to the preferences of the electorate.
On September 8, the seven parties that registered for the ballot signed a joint declaration entitled "For fair elections" that affirmed their shared commitment to abide by democratic norms and principles during the election campaign, and to campaign openly and with respect for their rivals, kavkaz-uzel.ru reported. They also pledged that the election campaign will proceed "in conformity with the mentality of the Chechen people, without recourse to actions that violate national traditions and customs and Islamic law."
But some local experts dismissed that pledge as a mere formality. Aslambek Apayev of the Moscow Helsinki Group predicted that the upcoming election would follow the same pattern as that to the Russian State Duma in December 2007 and the Russian presidential ballot in March 2008, kavkaz-uzel.ru reported on September 19. 90 Percent Turnouts
In both ballots, voter turnout was officially said to be over 90 percent, with overwhelming majorities for Unified Russia and Dmitry Medvedev, respectively. Timur Aliyev, who ran unsuccessfully on the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) party list in the State Duma election, estimated voter turnout in that ballot at no higher than 30 percent.
To date, there has been only one reported infringement of election legislation. The Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) complained on September 17 that the Grozny State Television and Radio Company cut from one of its regular election-campaign broadcasts a statement by Magomed Akhmatov, who heads the Communists' Chechen branch.
Akhmatov questioned the wisdom of Kadyrov's decision to rename one of Grozny's streets in honor of retired General Gennady Troshev, who commanded the combined Russian forces in Chechnya during the 1994-96 war. Akhmatov termed that censorship "direct interference in our party's election campaign," kavkaz-uzel.ru reported. Each of the seven parties registered for the election is entitled to two minutes' free airtime daily on both the Grozny and the Vainakh TV channel.
Kadyrov personally telephoned one independent candidate and demanded $200,000 from him simply to register for the ballot
Further official measures intended to persuade voters that the ballot will be fair include the creation on September 12 of a public committee named For Honest Elections that will monitor the vote, and the publication in a print-run of 1,500 copies by the Central Election Commission (TsIK) of a special 47-page handbook for those monitors.
But those initiatives too met with skepticism. The website kavkaz-uzel.ru on September 19 quoted one unnamed human rights activist as dismissing the committee as "a farce" intended to give a veneer of respect to an election in which the outcome had already been decided in advance. On September 23, the same website quoted an unnamed human rights activist as opining that the instruction handbook is intended to limit the powers of the election monitors, and therefore violates both the constitution and the election law.Falsification Fears
Chechnya's human rights ombudsman Nurdi Nukhadjiyev sought on September 24 to dispel those doubts, affirming that the committee can and will perform its duties no worse than do comparable bodies "in civilized countries," and that there will be no opportunities for falsifying the vote, "even supposing anyone wanted to," kavkaz-uzel.ru reported.
In fact, it is already clear how the ballot could be falsified. On September 4, the TsIK announced the results of an opinion poll conducted in seven regions of Chechnya, including Grozny. Of the 850 respondents, 84.3 percent said that they intend to vote on October 12.
Then on September 12, the TsIK gave the number of registered voters as 589,687, and the number of ballot papers printed as 600,000. The election law allows for printing 1.5 percent more ballots than there are registered voters, in case a voter inadvertently spoils his ballot paper on the first attempt.
A newly paved street named after Vladimir Putin in downtown Grozny
In an interview posted by kavkaz-uzel.ru on September 18, Andrei Serenko of the Information Policy Development Fund suggested that the outcome of the ballot could be rigged by the widespread abuse of certificates permitting a voter to cast his ballot in advance.
The TsIK has printed 5,000 such certificates, according to kavkaz-uzel.ru on September 20. Given that the requirement that voters surrender those certificates after voting is routinely ignored, it is possible to vote several times over in advance of the actual polling day.
Thus it would indeed be possible to secure a turnout figure of close to 84 percent, which is higher than the 69.59 percent registered during the November 2005 parliamentary ballot, but lower than the reported 99.5 percent during the December 2007 State Duma elections that Western commentators derided as totally implausible. As for the distribution of the vote, Nukhadjiyev's statement that there is "no worthy alternative to Unified Russia," leaves little doubt of the overall winner.
It remains unclear, however, which, if any of the remaining six parties will garner the minimum 7 percent of the vote required for parliamentary representation. A Just Russia, which has registered 45 candidates, may well do so, given that Grozny Mayor Muslim Khuchiyev, a close Kadyrov associate who in March 2008 was named the best mayor in the entire North Caucasus, heads its Chechen organization.
But the final decision on the composition of the new parliament will lie not with voters, but with Kadyrov. During the run-up to the November 2005 parliamentary elections, Kadyrov personally telephoned one independent candidate and demanded $200,000 from him simply to register for the ballot, RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service reported. The candidate paid up -- but was still not permitted to register.
* In the bicameral Chechen parliament elected in November 2005, Unified Russia held 33 mandates, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) -- six, and the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) -- three. There were 14 independent deputies. That parliament voted on June 27 to dissolve itself in line with amendments to the constitution and election law adopted in a referendum in December 2007.
* The new parliament will have 41 deputies, one-third fewer than the previous parliament. All will be elected under the party-list system, and for a period of five years, not four as was previously the case.
* A total of 347 candidates have been registered to participate, representing seven of the 12 political parties with regional organizations in Chechnya: Unified Russia; A Just Russia; the KPRF; the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia; Patriots of Russia; the Party of Peace and Unity; and the People's Union.
* The Greens were denied registration on the grounds that more than 2,500 of the 13,000 signatures they submitted in their support were found to be counterfeit, kavkaz-uzel.ru reported on September 5. The maximum permitted percentage of invalid signatures is 10 percent of the total submitted.