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Is Ingushetia's Former President Poised For A Comeback?

Murat Zyazikov

Murat Zyazikov

The Russian People's Union (ROS) has belatedly nominated Murat Zyazikov as its candidate for the September 8 election by the Republic of Ingushetia parliament of the next republic head.

Whether that nomination is legal and valid is unclear, however, as it was made after the deadline for proposing prospective candidates to the Russian presidential administration.

Zyazikov, a former Federal Security Service (FSB) colonel, served as Ingushetian president from 2002 until October 2008, when he was dismissed by then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev for failing to reverse either chronic economic decline or the upsurge in fighting between the North Caucasus insurgency and both local and federal police and security personnel. He is currently deputy presidential envoy to the Central Federal District.

Zyazikov's nomination calls into question the reelection for a second term of Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, the career Military Intelligence (GRU) officer whom Medvedev selected to replace him. Yevkurov's appointment initially met with jubilation. But over the past five years, the vast majority of the republic's population has come to regard him as incompetent, inept, and corrupt, possibly to an even greater degree than Zyazikov.

A poll of some 1,500 people conducted in March 2011 by the independent journal "Dosh" found that just 8.7 percent trusted Yevkurov, 9.5 percent trusted Zyazikov, while 81.2 percent still trusted Zyazikov’s predecessor, retired general and Afghan war hero Ruslan Aushev.

Ingushetian leader Yunus-Bek Yevkurov

Ingushetian leader Yunus-Bek Yevkurov

Yevkurov is one of three prospective candidates for the post of republic head whom the Ingushetian chapter of the ruling United Russia party proposed to President Vladimir Putin in June. The other two are parliament speaker Mukharbek Didigov and his deputy, Ruslan Gagiyev.

Under the recent amendments to the law reintroducing direct elections for the post of republic head, all political parties represented in a regional parliament have the right to nominate up to three candidates. Putin then selects a shortlist of three candidates on whom the republic’s parliament votes.

A party not represented in the republic's parliament is entitled to negotiate with parties that are on including its proposed candidates among that party's three nominees, which is presumably what the ROS intended to do in the case of Zyazikov. But the deadline for parliamentary parties to complete their discussions with the Russian presidential administration on their three candidates was July 23, the daily "Kommersant" pointed out on August 3 quoting unnamed senior United Russia members.

The rationale Putin cited for not holding direct elections in selected republics was to preclude "national and interethnic religious conflicts" such as occurred during the Karachayevo-Cherkessia Republic presidential ballot in 1999. But in the case of Ingushetia, it is more likely that the reason was to prevent the return to power of Aushev.

Aushev initially said he would not run, but after 50,672 signatures were collected in his support (more than the 49,200 votes Zyazikov received in Ingushetia’s last direct presidential election in 2002), Aushev formally stated on April 16 that he considers he has a moral obligation to participate in the ballot. Given Aushev's continuing popularity and the contempt in which many Ingush now hold Yevkurov, it is highly likely the former would have defeated the latter in a fair open ballot.

Just days later, however, Yevkurov convened a "congress of the Ingush people," which Aushev attended, and whose delegates opted to abolish direct elections. That move was widely interpreted as guaranteeing Yevkurov's reelection.

There are at least three possible explanations for the last-minute bid to shoehorn Zyazikov on to Putin's shortlist of three candidates.

First, the Kremlin intended from the outset to replace Yevkurov with Zyazikov, which is tantamount to bringing Ingushetia back under the control of the FSB. But in that case, it is not clear why the legal procedure for securing his nomination was not meticulously complied with.

Second, the Kremlin initially planned to allow Yevkurov to serve a second term but then, for whatever reason, reconsidered at the last minute.

And third, Zyazikov's proposed candidacy (assuming the rules are bent to include his name on the shortlist) is intended to create the impression that the parliament vote is not a formality, given that deputies have a choice between two equally qualified (if equally unpopular) candidates.

True, including Zyazikov in Putin's shortlist would make a mockery of the Russian leadership's professed commitment to allow the free elections for the post of republic head. It would also reinforce the perception, already widely held among voters in Ingushetia and Daghestan, that they are being blatantly discriminated against by being deprived of the opportunity to vote in an open ballot for their regional leader (even if the outcome of the ballot is predetermined beforehand in Moscow).

But from the Kremlin's perspective, the benefits of returning Zyazikov to power may well outweigh the risk of allegations that the ballot was unfair and/or that the Ingush population would take to the streets in protest.

First, Zyazikov is likely to reverse the "soft" approach taken by Yevkurov to neutralizing the North Caucasus insurgency. Yevkurov has encouraged young insurgents to surrender and sought to ensure their reintegration into society. He also suspended in 2011 the federal law banning handing over the bodies of slain militants to their families for burial, arguing that "there is no point in making people bitter."

Putin may have decided that a tougher stance vis-a-vis the insurgency is needed during the run-up to the Winter Olympics in Sochi in February 2014. Self-styled Caucasus Emirate leader Doku Umarov has called on his fighters to prevent the games taking place.

Second, for the past year Yevkurov and neighboring Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov have been engaged in an acrimonious public dispute over where the administrative border between their respective republics should be drawn. Zyazikov may be induced to accept the unilateral delimitation of that border enshrined in a law passed by the Chechen parliament last fall that took effect in February. That law designates part of what is currently Republic of Ingushetia territory as belonging to the Chechen Republic.

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.