One of Daghestan's most powerful regional leaders, Khasavyurt Mayor Saygidpasha Umakhanov, has publicly accused Daghestan State Council Chairman Magomedali Magomedov of murder and demanded that he resign. That accusation effectively marks the start of the campaign for the June 2006 republican presidential election, in which Magomedov, who is 74 and has headed the republic since 1991, is barred by the constitution from seeking a further term.
The election will be the first in which the republican head is chosen by direct ballot and not by the members of the State Council, on which all Daghestan's 14 officially recognized ethnic groups have equal representation. It could also pit the two largest of those groups against each other in a struggle for power and influence. Magomedov is a Dargin, while Umakhanov is an Avar; the two groups account for 15.5 and 27 percent, respectively, of the republic's population of about 2.1 million.
Umakhanov, together with a group of State Council deputies representing the northern and western districts of Daghestan, has "over the past few days" convened several mass meetings in Khasavyurt at which the predominantly Avar participants criticized Magomedov and demanded his resignation and preterm presidential elections, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 10 August. According to the Chechen website "Kavkaz Center" on 12 August, Umakhanov has openly accused Magomedov of orchestrating both a series of political killings, including that six years ago of Daghestan's Mufti Saidmukhamed-hadji Abubakarov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21, 24, 26, and 27 August 1998), and the bombing on 9 May 2002 of a parade by World War II veterans in Kaspiisk in which over 40 people died. Leaflets containing those accusations are being spread across Daghestan, the website reported. In what appears to be a bid to secure support from Moscow, Umakhanov has also sponsored the creation of a Committee to Defend the Constitution of the Russian Federation on the Territory of Daghestan. But according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta," he has effectively transformed Khasavyurt into a semi-independent enclave that does not acknowledge the authority of the republic's head or pay any taxes.
Magomedov has already affirmed that he intends to serve out his full term rather than resign, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported. And Magomedov's supporters have organized meetings in Makhachkala to condemn the criticism of him emanating from Khasavyurt. But the pressure for him to step down is likely to intensify, and at least one contender has already emerged to succeed him. That candidate is former Russian Nationalities Minister Ramazan Abdulatipov, an Avar who currently heads the Assembly of Peoples of Russia. In an interview published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 13 August, Abdulatipov confirmed that he will contest the presidential election in the summer of 2006. But at the same time, Abdulatipov played down the tensions resulting from Umakhanov's criticisms of Magomedov. He noted that he has appealed to all influential political figures, from Magomedov to the leaders of Khasavyurt, Kizlyar, and other districts, to come together and draft a program that would address all the key political, economic, and social problems facing Daghestan, including preparations to ensure that the 2006 ballot is free and fair. The most important thing, Abdulatipov stressed, is not who will be the next head of the republic, but what Daghestan itself will become.
"Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 10 August quoted unnamed observers as construing Umakhanov's campaign to denigrate Magomedov as either an attempt to induce Moscow to dispatch as a mediator "an experienced politician with broad connections in Moscow and a deep love for Daghestan" -- a clear allusion to Abdulatipov -- or alternatively a bid to split the republic along ethnic lines. But the former hypothesis seems unlikely in light of Abdulatipov's subsequent declaration that he will run for the post of State Council chairman. And the latter would seem to be an oversimplification, in that there are likely to be several Avar candidates to succeed Magomedov: Abdulatipov, Umakhanov, and possibly also oil magnate Gadzhi Makhachev, who represents Daghestan in the Russian State Duma. Makhachev and Abdulatipov toured Daghestan earlier this year, and according to Abdulatipov they were themselves criticized by participants at the meetings in Khasavyurt for allegedly seeking to "destabilize the situation."
In an article published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 5 April, after that tour, Makhachev deplored what he termed the Russian leadership's indifference to the deteriorating political situation in Daghestan, which he blamed partly on Islamic militants who infiltrated Daghestan from Chechnya and partly on high unemployment that leaves young men with few alternatives other than joining those militant formations. He called on Moscow to take immediate steps to stabilize the situation in Daghestan in order to ensure that the June 2006 elections are fair, and that the Dargins do not manipulate the ballot to install one of their own as Magomedov's successor. The most likely Dargin candidate, although Makhachev did not identify him as such, is Makhachkala Mayor Said Amirov.