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Analysis: Sole Serious Challenger Barred From Chechen Ballot

Malik Saidullaev (file photo) The refusal last week by the Chechen Central Election Commission to register Moscow-based businessman Malik Saidullaev as a candidate for the 29 August ballot to elect a successor to slain pro-Moscow leader Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov removes the last doubts as to the outcome of that ballot -- assuming that the Kremlin's apparent choice, Chechen Interior Minister Major General Alu Alkhanov, is not assassinated in the next four weeks. Kremlin-sponsored opinion polls summarized by Interfax on 19 July suggested that 45.1 percent of respondents would vote for Alkhanov and 25.3 percent for Saidullaev. That outcome would have necessitated a runoff, a possibility that Chechen Central Election Commission Chairman Abdul-Kerim Arsakhanov mentioned in an interview with Interfax on 26 May.

Saidullaev's elimination effectively demolishes the hypothetical need for a second round of voting. But while his first-round victory over the remaining six candidates is all but a given, it will not necessarily serve to "stabilize" the situation in Chechnya, as former Russian Nationalities Minister and Federation Council member Ramazan Abdulatipov observed in a 27 July interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta."

Following Kadyrov's death in a terrorist bombing on 9 May, it remained unclear for several weeks whether some way would be found to enable his younger son Ramzan to be elected his successor, despite the fact that at 28 he is technically too young to contest the ballot. The Chechen Constitution "tailored" to suit Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov and adopted in a disputed referendum in March 2003 stipulates that presidential candidates must be at least 30 (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 14 May 2004). After senior Russian officials made clear that the constitution would not be amended to benefit Ramzan Kadyrov, two candidates emerged as possible Kremlin choices. They were Alkhanov, who initially declined to confirm he would run, arguing that it would be disrespectful to do so until 40 days had elapsed since Kadyrov's death; and Ruslan Yamadaev, who was elected in December to represent Chechnya in the State Duma and whose candidacy was reportedly supported by unnamed pro-Moscow Chechen government officials and the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, of which Yamadaev is a member (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 3 June 2004).

Alkhanov was nominated as a candidate in early June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 June 2004) and finally formally agreed to contest the ballot following a meeting in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin on 15 June. Of a field of almost 20 would-be candidates, only seven succeeded in registering, including former Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Abdulla Bugaev and Colonel Movsur Khamidov of the Chechen division of the Federal Security Service (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 July 2004). Bugaev contested October's ballot, finishing second to Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov with just 5.7 percent of the vote, according to "The Moscow Times" on 26 July. "Vremya novostei" on 27 July suggested that Khamidov is the Kremlin's "reserve" candidate in the event that Alkhanov does not survive until election day.
Of a field of almost 20 would-be candidates, only seven succeeded in registering.

Saidullaev told "Novaya gazeta" (No. 53) that he was threatened with physical violence when he traveled to Grozny to register his candidacy and unambiguously advised to withdraw "voluntarily," which he refused to do. He was subsequently refused registration on the pretext that his passport listed his place of birth as Alkhan-Yurt in the Chechen Republic; at the time of Saidullaev's birth in 1964, Alkhan-Yurt was part of the Checheno-Ingush ASSR. Saidullaev, who was similarly barred from contesting last October's ballot (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 26 September 2003), said that he believes the decision not to register him as a candidate was taken in Moscow. He termed his disqualification "a serious mistake" and proof that only Aslan Maskhadov can be regarded as the legitimately elected Chechen leader.

How Alkhanov's election will affect the situation in Chechnya remains unclear. Some analysts believe the Kremlin intends him to act as a counterweight to Ramzan Kadyrov, and for that reason is creating a special police division that will supersede Kadyrov's infamous "presidential guard" (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 23 July 2004). Other experts cited by ITAR-TASS on 24 June suggested that Alkhanov is only seen as an interim leader, and that he will step down in October 2006 when Ramzan Kadyrov turns 30 to enable the latter to take his place.

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