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Chechnya: Few Surprises Expected In Presidential Vote

Chechnya's presidential election on 29 August is likely to bring few surprises to the war-ravaged Russian republic. Of the seven candidates, the Kremlin's favored candidate, Alu Alkhanov, is expected to win easily.

Prague, 27 August 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Deceased Chechen President Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov came to power with strong support from Moscow.

And the Kremlin appears to once again be doing its utmost to ensure its new favored candidate -- current Interior Minister Alu Alkhnaov ---- wins the Chechen poll easily.

Aleksei Malashenko, an analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Center, said Alkhanov should have few worries on election day.

"According to [data] coming from Moscow sources in the beginning of August, Alkhanov can expect to get approximately 55-70 percent of the vote, which is enough [to win]," Malashenko said. "His main opponent, [pro-Moscow politician] Abdul Bugaev, may get some 20 percent."

Russian President Vladimir Putin on 22 August made a rare visit to Chechnya in a show of support for Alkhanov. The interior minister has also received favorable coverage in Russia's official media.

The only candidate considered strong enough to present a serious challenge to Alkhanov -- Moscow-based businessman Malik Saidullaev -- was disqualified from the ballot last month.

None of the remaining candidates are believed to have a significant chance of winning enough votes to take the ballot to a second round.

In addition to Bugaev, the remaining candidates include factory director Umar Anyev; local officials Vakha Visaev and Mohamed Aidomirov; and Movsur Chamidov and Hasan Asakov, both officials in Chechnya's pro-Moscow administration.

The elections are taking place under heavy security from federal troops. Some 11,000 military servicemen will also be casting votes.

Alkhanov is trying to appeal to the Chechen electorate by saying he will fight corruption and work to make the republic economically independent.
The Kremlin appears to once again be doing its utmost to ensure its new favored candidate -- current Interior Minister Alu Alkhnaov ---- wins the Chechen poll easily.

Some analysts say that, in endorsing Alkhanov, the Kremlin is seeking to preserve a sense of stability in Chechnya -- in part, by maintaining the repressive law enforcement system put in place by Kadyrov.

This system includes the secret services and also the much-feared police force commanded by Ramzan Kadyrov, the son of the former president. That force comprises several thousand highly trained fighters, who regularly battle with separatist rebels.

Human rights groups accuse the force of orchestrating kidnappings and other crimes in order to terrorize political opponents.

While there appear to be no doubts about who the winner will be, analysts disagree on how long Alkhanov will remain in power.

Andrei Babitskii, an RFE/RL correspondent who has frequently reported from Chechnya, said that Alkhanov is likely to be a temporary figure who may only serve until Ramzan Kadyrov is old enough to take power.

The Chechen Constitution stipulates that a president must be at least 30 years old. Ramzan Kadyrov -- whom Babitskii describes as "the Kremlin's real choice" -- is currently 27.

Babitskii said Alkhanov does not have sufficient power support to create a ruling system of his own -- making him a perfect caretaker candidate for a Kremlin looking ahead to a second Kadyrov presidency.

Alkhanov, he added, is simply mediocre -- what he calls a "typical Soviet policeman."

"He is the former chief of the [Chechen] transport police. He is a really typical representative of the Soviet era. He is a policeman -- moderately brave, moderately clever," Babitskii said. "He is able to look rather decent in public, pronounce some more or less reasonable speeches. At the same time, he is a serviceman, for whom orders coming from the top are imperative."

Little in Chechnya is expected to improve after the 29 August vote.

Malashenko of the Carnegie Moscow Center said the Kremlin is looking to continue its so-called "Chechenization" policy of different factions in Chechen society at war with each other.

"The elections will change nothing," Malashenko said. "You can be sure the Chechenization will continue. I don't think that [elections] will strongly reduce the corruption that exists on both sides -- both in Moscow and in Chechnya itself."

Malashenko also noted that the Kremlin and pro-Moscow Chechen groups are not the only forces in the republic. Alkhanov and Ramzan Kadyrov may be the most visible actors on the political scene, but they are not the only ones.

"What is most important -- let's not forget -- is that there are such figures as [Aslan] Maskhadov, [Shamil] Basaev; there are several thousands militants here, and so on," Malashenko said.

Chechen separatist leader Maskhadov has branded the election as a farce. In a recent interview with RFE/RL, Maskhadov said the vote is yet another attempt to impose the Kremlin's will on Chechnya.

"It has happened before and it is happening now," Maskhadov said. "Moscow is imposing one more national traitor, with a family history of treason. They will impose such a person, who will renounce God and will turn against his people if asked. They [the Kremlin] will only impose a person who will faithfully serve them."

With Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov's fate in mind, many observers have speculated whether Alkhanov, too, may be the target of an assassination attempt.

In a recent interview posted on a Chechen separatist website, Maskhadov himself warned that, regardless of who becomes president, it will be "only a matter of time before the hands of the mujahedin" reach him.

Alkhanov earlier this month made an attempt at reconciliation with the separatist leader, saying he would be willing to hold talks with Maskhadov if he publicly admitted the error of his ways. Maskhadov did not accept the offer.

Violence, meanwhile, continues in Chechnya. Just one week ago, Chechen rebels carried out a series of attacks targeting a police station in the capital Grozny and polling centers across the republic. At least five people were reportedly killed.

(RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service contributed to this report.)

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