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Embattled Makhachkala Mayor Wins Reprieve

  • Liz Fuller

Dagestani leader Ramazan Abdulatipov (right) and the acting mayor of Makhachkala, Magomed Suleymanov, in April 2014

Dagestani leader Ramazan Abdulatipov (right) and the acting mayor of Makhachkala, Magomed Suleymanov, in April 2014

An emergency session of the Makhachkala city parliament scheduled for June 29 has been postponed sine die, with no explanation. The session was to have voted no confidence in acting Mayor Magomed Suleymanov, of whom Republic of Daghestan head Ramazan Abdulatipov said last week that "he has completely forfeited the trust" of not only the republic head but of the government and the city's population, and can thus no longer serve in that post.

Abdulatipov had appointed Suleymanov, a former Daghestan parliament chairman, as acting Makhachkala mayor in April 2014. Abdulatipov stressed at that time that despite resistance from other, unnamed members of the republican leadership, he considered Suleymanov the most qualified candidate. And until comparatively recently, Abdulatipov affirmed publicly that he backed Suleymanov's candidacy in the mayoral election due in September.

It appears, however, that Suleymanov was unable to replicate on a larger scale the success he had registered in 1997-2007 as mayor of the smaller Caspian town of Izberbash. Under Suleymanov's watch, Izberbash had the reputation of being the neatest, cleanest, best-run town in Daghestan.

Abdulatipov listed numerous failings on Suleymanov's part, many of them related to his inability to cope with the problems that had accumulated during the 15-year tenure as mayor of Said Amirov, who is currently on trial on charges of commissioning a contract killing.

During that time frame, the city's population more than doubled and countless new buildings, including high-rise apartment blocks, were built illegally without the necessary planning permission, while infrastructure such as highways and water mains deteriorated into a shocking state of dilapidation.

Abdulatipov specifically singled out Suleymanov's alleged failure to meet deadlines for rehousing families currently living in ramshackle or derelict accommodation -- even though the time frame for doing so does not expire until 2017. He claimed that in a poll conducted among city residents, 90 percent of respondents said they do not trust Suleymanov personally or his approach to his work.

Abdulatipov further made vague but derogatory comments implying that Suleymanov had acted dishonorably by complaining about his colleagues (to whom was not spelled out). Abdulatipov also divulged that it was he who had spread rumors of Suleymanov's impending dismissal, with the aim of assessing how he responded.

Curiously, Abdulatipov did not include among his criticisms of Suleymanov two separate instances, in September and November, in which prosecutors secured the annulment of illegal directives issued by the Makhachkala municipal council.

According to the independent weekly Chernovik, the pressure on Suleymanov has been building over several months. He was summoned in the spring by presidential administration head Ramazan Aliyev and reportedly given a bucket list of tasks to accomplish. Then, in early June, Aliyev reportedly ordered him to resign, which Suleymanov categorically refused to do.

Meanwhile, Suleymanov apparently managed to alienate both parliament speaker Khizri Shikhsaidov and Prime Minister Abdusamad Gamidov (who like Suleymanov is a Dargin). Shikhsaidov reportedly objected to Suleymanov including his son on the list of candidates from the ruling Unified Russia party for election to the Makhachkala City Council. When Shikhsaidov called on Gamidov to mediate in the ensuing heated quarrel, the latter reportedly made clear his hopes that Construction and Communal Services Minister Musa Musayev would be appointed acting Makhachkala mayor in Suleymanov's place.

Abdulatipov, incidentally, categorically denied on June 26 that disagreements with Shikhsaidov and Gamidov were a factor in his decision to replace Suleymanov.

Suleymanov has not taken Abdulatipov's public criticism lying down. The most recent edition of the weekly Makhachkala city newspaper printed an open letter to the city's population in which Suleymanov detailed what he has accomplished (including cracking down on illegal labor). At the same time, he admitted that he is still struggling to come to grips with the problems of illegal construction and tax evasion. In 2014, the city's tax revenues were just 70 percent of the target figure.

As noted above, no reason was cited for the postponement of the municipal-council session that was to have decided Suleymanov's fate. It is not impossible, however, that he appealed to his most influential Dargin co-ethnic, Magomedsalam Magomedov, whom Abdulatipov replaced as republic head in early 2013. Magomedov is currently a senior Russian presidential administration official, and thus in a position to overrule Abdulatipov.

If Suleymanov is nonetheless coerced to step down, analysts have identified several possible successors. Prominent among them is Sagid Murtazaliyev, a former Olympic wrestling gold medalist who heads the Daghestan chapter of the Russian Pension Fund.

Murtazaliyev fits Abdulatipov's criterion of "a more powerful figure" capable of cleaning up the city, both figuratively and metaphorically. But he is an Avar, not a Dargin, and Abdulatipov implied on June 25 that he will abide by the unwritten constraints governing the division of top posts among Daghestan's three largest ethnic groups (Avars, Dargins and Kumyks) in which case it is incumbent on him to select a Dargin as Makhachkala mayor.

In addition, Murtazaliyev is known to be a close associate of Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov, and either Abdulatipov or the Russian presidential administration, or both, may be reluctant to condone an appointment that could enable Kadyrov to influence key decisions relating to the capital of a neighboring republic.

The most likely Dargin candidate is said to be Industry, Trade, and Investment Minister Yusup Umavov. He is said to be a capable manager but lacking in political ambition, meaning that unlike Murtazaliyev, he would be unlikely to yield to the temptation to use the post of Makhachkala mayor as a springboard from which to aspire to the post of republic head. He would presumably also be willing to take orders from Abdulatipov.

Musa Musayev, whose candidacy Gamidov reportedly favors, is a Kumyk, and thus presumably likewise not in the running. The same holds true for Deputy Prime Minister and Economy and Regional Development Minister for Rayudin Yusufov, 48, who is a Lak. Yusufov is described as ambitious, professional, charismatic, and familiar with all aspects of Makhachkala's economy. Yusufov reportedly has Shikhsaidov's backing.

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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