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Efforts To Stage-Manage Elections Fuel Tensions In North Caucasus


Mukhu Aliyev, Daghestani president, in 2006

Mukhu Aliyev, Daghestani president, in 2006

Daghestan's President Mukhu Aliyev is reportedly sparing no effort to secure the reelection on October 11 of the incumbent mayor of the southern town of Derbent, Feliks Kaziakhmedov.

That blatant interference has impelled two rival candidates to lodge a formal complaint with the head of Russia's Central Election Commission. Some Derbent policemen too have complained separately to Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev that they have been threatened with dismissal unless they vote for Kaziakhmedov, but Daghestan's Interior Minister Ali Magomedov has denied this.

In Karachayevo-Cherkessia, candidates for the post of mayor of the town of Karachayevsk have demanded that acting Mayor Umar Uzdenov be disqualified from the ballot (also on October 11) on the grounds that his registration as a candidate is invalid, and that the presidential administration is pressuring voters to cast their ballots for him.

But in both republics, complaints of malpractice, even if they can be substantiated, are unlikely to have the desired impact, if for no other reason than that both incumbents were proposed as candidates by the pro-Kremlin United Russia party.

Derbent has a population of some 100,000 of whom approximately 40 percent are Azeris, 25 percent Lezgins, and 20 percent Tabasarans. Both Kaziakhmedov and his main challenger, former republican prosecutor Imam Yaraliyev, are Lezgins.

So too is Federation Council member and billionaire Suleiman Kerimov. Kerimov is registered for tax purposes as a resident of Derbent and the 2.54 billion rubles ($85 million) he paid in taxes for 2007 was tantamount to 35 percent of the total tax collected in Derbent for that year and 7 percent of the entire republican budget for 2008. Kaziakhmedov told journalists last week that Kerimov paid a further 1.2 billion rubles in taxes last year, which served to pay for the reconstruction of three Derbent schools. Kerimov has not, however, publicly endorsed any of the six candidates for Derbent mayor.

The independent Russian language weekly "Chernovik" has published several articles in recent weeks challenging Kaziakhmedov's claims to have modernized the city infrastructure, and deploring the republican leadership's overt interference in the election campaign on his behalf. President Aliyev, the paper reported, has dispatched virtually the entire republican government to Derbent in a massive demonstration of support for Kaziakhmedov.

The paper contrasts Kaziakhmedov's purportedly inflated claims with what it terms the very real improvements implemented over the past three years by Yaraliyev in his current post of head of the Suleiman-Stalsky Raion southwest of Derbent. After serving as republican prosecutor since 1994, Yaraliyev was sacked from that post in the spring of 2006 immediately after Aliyev was named republican president.

"Chernovik" also claims that numerous members of Kaziakhmedov's family who are not residents of Derbent have been appointed to serve on precinct election commissions.

Complaints Of Pressure

On October 5, the news agency Regnum reported that 75 Derbent police officers had addressed a formal complaint to Russian Interior Minister Nurgaliyev that they have been threatened with dismissal if they refuse during early voting to cast ballots for Kaziakhmedov. Dagestan's Interior minister Ali Magomedov denied this on October 8.

In addition to Yaraliyev, two other candidates have complained of pressure and discrimination during the election campaign. "Chernovik" on October 2 quoted independent candidate Ikmet Ismailov (a justice of the peace and the sole Azeri among the six candidates) as saying that he has been informed that the republic's leadership is doing all it can to pressure him to withdraw from the race and to have him transferred to Khasavyurt Raion in the northwest of Daghestan, bordering on Chechnya.

And regional construction company deputy head Salikh Ramazanov has addressed a joint complaint together with Yaraliyev to Russian Central Election Commission Vladimir Churov alleging "egregious violations."

On October 7, kavkaz-uzel.ru quoted a "Chernovik" journalist as saying that a Federal Security Service officer in Daghestan has brought a libel case against Yaraliyev; he did not give details.

Aliyev Throws Weight Around

Aliyev's heavy-handed efforts in support for Kaziakhmedov are surprising insofar as Aliyev's own political future is not assured. His presidential term expires in early 2010, and it is not clear whether Russian President Dmitry Medvedev will reappoint him for a second term.

In addition, the security situation in Daghestan has deteriorated markedly since early June, when Interior Minister Adilgirey Magomedtagirov, who had made no secret of his presidential ambitions, was shot dead leaving a restaurant in Makhachkala after a wedding party. A series of attacks on police in July triggered a mood of mass hysteria, with daily rumors of imminent terrorist attacks.

Makhachkala Mayor Said Amirov, who has aspired for years to the presidency, seized on that mood of insecurity to lambaste Aliyev. But Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's trenchant criticism of Amirov on October 5 in connection with the city's chronic failure to pay for power supplies casts doubt on his presidential chances.

All in all, it seems improbable that Aliyev would risk censure by interfering so blatantly in the electoral process if he had not received the green light to do so from Moscow -- in which case Kaziakhmedov's reelection is a foregone conclusion.

Karachayevo-Cherkessia's Ethnic Puzzle

A similar scenario is unfolding in the Karachayevo-Cherkessia Republic (KChR), where republican President Boris Ebzeyev has reportedly openly called on voters to support acting Karachayevsk Mayor Uzdenov.

But in this case, rival candidates believe that official backing is directed not toward securing Uzdenov's election, but the postponement of the ballot and legislative amendments that would empower a new city council to name Uzdenov mayor without a popular vote.

The ethnic background to the vote too is different. Karachais account for some 38.5 percent of the republic's population of 427,000, and hold a disproportionately large number of government posts. Russians are the second ethnic group (33.6 percent) and Cherkess the third-largest (11.3 percent).

The mayor of the capital, Cherkessk, which has a population in excess of 115,000, is, judging by his surname, a Ukrainian. Karachayevsk, the second-largest town, has a population of only some 20,000, but the nearby resorts of Teberda and Dombay are regarded as a potentially lucrative investment.

The previous mayoral election in Karachayevsk in the spring of 2007 evolved into a protracted legal battle between incumbent Sapar Laypanov, who had held the post since 1996, and challenger Murat Botashev. Botashev appealed the results, which gave Laypanov a narrow margin of victory, first in the KChR Supreme Court and then the Russian Supreme Court. After three vote recounts, Laypanov stepped down as mayor in late March 2009.

Five candidates, including Uzdenov, have registered for the ballot. All are Karachais; Laypanov is not one of them. The other four are retired former KChR Deputy Interior Minister Gaidar Shidakov, Soltan Semyonov, economist Anzor Khubiyev, and former Deputy Mayor Khadji-Islam Lepshokov.

Electioneering Intensifies

In early September, all five signed a memorandum pledging "honest and clean elections," but the ink had barely dried on their signatures when republican Central Election Commission Chairman Mekhti Baytokov informed them that they would not have access to any republican media, but would have to campaign door-to-door. Shidakov branded that restriction a violation of his constitutional rights, and accused the republican government of pushing Uzdenov's candidacy.

Deputy Karachayevsk Mayor Chotchayev told kavkaz-uzel.ru that public-sector workers are being threatened with dismissal unless they undertake to vote for Uzdenov, and that given the high level of unemployment, few are prepared to risk losing their jobs. President Ebzeyev said last month that registered unemployment is 3.9 percent, which is less than half the 11.6 percent estimate made public in May by the Russian Statistics Agency.

In late September, Uzdenov's four rivals formally appealed to Karachayevsk prosecutor Azret-Ali Urusov to curtail the pressure they claimed presidential-administration officials were exerting on city-council members on behalf of Uzdenov.

Just days later, on October 2, they formally asked the Karachayevsk city court to annul Uzdenov's registration as a candidate for the ballot on the grounds that Uzdenov failed to submit the relevant supporting documentation, including proof of his membership of United Russia. The court, predictably, rejected that demand as without foundation. Central Election Commission Chairman Baytokov explained that neither republican nor federal election law requires a candidate to furnish documentary evidence that he belongs to a given political party. On October 8, a United Russia party official in Karachayevsk confirmed that Uzdenov became a member of that party in March 2009.

The four opposition candidates subsequently said they have retracted their appeal so as not to "fuel tensions," implying that they are no longer believe the ballot will be postponed, or have any hopes that it will be fair.

Blatant, even obsessive interference in elections by republic heads on behalf of a mayoral candidate selected by United Russia is not confined to the North Caucasus. On the contrary, it has become one of the norms of what is evolving from "managed" to "stage-managed democracy." But the elections in Derbent and Karachayevsk are nonetheless of interest insofar as they reflect how, in a multiethnic republic where most influential posts are informally reserved for a specific nationality, the struggle for power and influence now takes place as much within as between the various ethnic groups.

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.

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