The antipathy of many Daghestani voters to a regional leadership they appear to perceive as corrupt, venal, and totally indifferent to their problems was reflected in the crushing defeat of the ruling United Russia party in a local election in the remote mountain town of Buynaksk last year by the small Patriots of Russia party and its mayoral candidate, Osman Osmanov.
Now a group with ties to the Muslim Spiritual Board of Daghestan (DUMD) has set up a chapter of the all-Russia extraparliamentary party The People Against Corruption (NPK) in the hope of tapping into that same vein of discontent and winning representation in both the Russian State Duma and the new Republic of Daghestan parliament to be elected on September 18.
NPK was established in 2013 by Russian politician Grigory Anisimov, one of its slogans being "The country should know what its corrupt officials look like." ("Страна должна знать своих коррупционеров в лицо!") Its Daghestan chapter was set up the same year but hit the headlines for the first time in April 2016 when its leader, Magomedkhabib Tazhudinov, a qualified lawyer and deputy rector of the Daghestan Humanitarian Institute, announced that Daghestan's first deputy mufti, Magomedrasul Saaduyev, will be one of NPK's candidates in the September ballot. Tazhudinov stressed the need to ensure the election to parliament of "honest" candidates who have not misappropriated "a single ruble."
Republic of Daghestan head Ramazan Abdulatipov reportedly construed that announcement of NPK's plans as directed against him personally. As the independent weekly Chernovik has pointed out, Abdulatipov likes to claim personal credit for the crackdown on corruption since his appointment in January 2013 as acting republic head. Yet despite that crackdown, of which the mayor of Makhachkala and numerous district heads have been the most prominent victims, residents of Daghestan are still required to pay out hefty bribes to secure the most basic public services.
Furthermore, given that Moscow tends to conflate the reliability of federation subject heads with the percentage of the vote the United Russia party receives in both local and national elections, a decline in popular support for United Russia would negatively affect Abdulatipov's standing at a time when his political future is already unclear. He turns 70 in early August, and Ilyas Umakhanov, who represents Daghestan in the Federation Council, is reportedly positioning himself as a potential successor.
There is an unwritten rule that representatives of Daghestan's two largest ethnic groups, the Avars and Dargins, should alternately hold the post of republic head. Abdulatipov is an Avar, Umakhanov a Dargin.
Abdulatipov's publicly stated reservations to NPK's parliamentary ambitions center on the argument that the clergy should not engage in politics. In addition to Saaduyev, its members also include Abdula Atsayev, rector of the Daghestan Theological University and the son of Said-Afandi Chirkeisky, a venerated Sufi sheikh killed by a female suicide bomber in August 2012; and theologian Khasmukhammad Abubakarov, the father of former Daghestani mufti Saidmukhammad Abubakarov, who was blown up in 1998.
In light of the Daghestan NPK's close links to the DUMD, Russian journalists tend to refer to it as an "Islamic party"; but that is arguably both an exaggeration and an oversimplification. According to Chernovik, just 21 percent of NPK's prospective parliament candidates are from the DUMD and a further 30 percent are affiliated with it. Current and former members of the law enforcement agencies, including former republican Security Council Secretary Akhmednabi Magdigadzhayev, account for 11 percent, and persons close to those agencies for a further 15 percent; the remaining 25 percent of candidates have no ties to either group.
Moreover, Daghestan's current mufti, Akhmad-hadzhi Abdulayev, has distanced himself and the DUMD from NPK while stressing that senior members of the clergy enjoy the same right as other Russian citizens to seek election. Abdulayev added, however, that in accordance with Russian law, if they are elected, they must quit their clerical post.
In an implicit challenge to Abdulatipov, Abdulayev also said it was incumbent on the republic's leadership either to arrest those clerics if they have broken the law, or to resolve the problems they seek to focus attention on.
NPK spokesman Robert Kurbanov for his part has categorically denied that NPK is an "Islamic" party. He stressed that NPK's membership comprises peoples of various religious beliefs and from different ethnic groups. (One of its recent recruits is Buybika Shalumova, deputy chair of Daghestan's Jewish community.)
Earlier this month, Chernovik commentator Mairbek Agayev attributed growing popular sympathy toward NPK not so much to unquestioning support of its program and platform as to the bitter disillusion many Daghestanis now feel with a leadership in which they had pinned their hopes for positive change.
Whether and to what extent that sympathy will translate into votes for NPK is difficult to predict. In an analysis for the website Regnum.ru, Konstantin Kazyonin says that by virtue of its association with the DUMB, NPK can count on the support of voters in those rural mountain districts where respect for the official clergy is strongest.
Other analysts predict that NPK could win a minimum of five-to-15, and possibly as many as half, the 72 parliament mandates.
The extent of the support the DUMD is capable of mobilizing can be gauged by the results of the annual unofficial poll conducted by Chernovik to determine which political figure its readers would like to see as republic head. For the past two years, Mufti Abdulayev has been the clear winner.
It is worth noting that there has been no negative comment to date from the federal leadership on the emergence of NPK as a political player in Daghestan. That suggests that the tactic of augmenting the party's list of candidates with respected former law enforcement personnel has served to convince Moscow that NPK's Islamic affiliation has been overstated. And/or Mufti Abdulayev may have succeeded in reassuring and securing the backing of Igor Barinov, head of the Federal Agency for Nationality Relations, during their meeting in early May.