Accessibility links

Breaking News

Russia: Chechen Elections Will Augment Strongman's Power

Ramzan Kadyrov at his father's funeral in 2004 (AFP) On 27 November, elections will take place in Chechnya for a new bicameral parliament. The ballot is intended as the final stage in the ongoing process of "normalization" in the wake of Russian President Vladimir Putin's announcement that the war against the Chechen resistance is over. That "normalization" process began with the adoption of a new constitution in March 2003, followed by the election in August of that year of former mufti Akhmad-hadji Kadyrov as republican head. Kadyrov's death in a bomb attack on 9 May 2004 further delayed the parliamentary elections, the date of which had been pushed back from the fall of 2003 to March 2004 to March 2005.

In late August 2004, acting Interior Minister Alu Alkhanov was elected Kadyrov's successor as head of the pro-Moscow administration. But the real power in Chechnya devolved after Kadyrov's death on to his 27-year-old son Ramzan. Ramzan Kadyrov previously headed a presidential guard service whose members reportedly engaged with impunity in the arbitrary abduction, torture, and killing of Chechen civilians whose corpses they then ransomed for exorbitant sums of money. Within hours of Akhmed-hadji's death, Ramzan was granted a meeting (shown on Russian television) with Putin; days later, he was named first deputy prime minister. Since then his remit has expanded to embrace responsibility for the distribution of compensation payments to Chechens whose homes and property were damaged or destroyed during the fighting of the past decade.

Ballot Viewed As A Formality

Most independent Russian observers, together with many Chechens, regard the 27 November ballot as a mere formality intended to institutionalize Ramzan Kadyrov's absolute power. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 23 November dubbed the new legislature "the Ramzan parliament." And in a recent opinion poll conducted in Chechnya, 72 percent of respondents said they believe that Ramzan Kadyrov will determine the outcome of the ballot, according to as cited on 23 November by Eight political parties have registered to participate in the ballot: Unified Russia; Yabloko; Rodina (Motherland); the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS); the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF); the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia; the Eurasian Union; and Narodnaya Volya (People's Will). The Republican Party was disqualified as over 10 percent of the signatures collected in its support were ruled to be false. Ninety candidates will compete in single-mandate constituencies for the 18 seats in the upper chamber, the Council of the Republic. A total of 161 candidates will compete for the 20 seats in the lower chamber, the People's Assembly, that are to be allocated in single-mandate constituencies, and a further 106 for the remaining 20 seats in the People's Assembly allocated on the basis of party lists, according to on 24 October.

Few observers doubt, however, that the new parliament will be dominated by deputies from the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party. "Newsweek-Russia" No. 43 predicted that Unified Russia will win 70 percent of the seats, the SPS 15 percent, and the KPRF 15 percent, noting that candidates known to be loyal to Kadyrov occupy the top three places on the party lists of all three parties. Unified Russia's top candidates include Magomed Khambiev, who served as defense minister under Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov but surrendered last year after dozens of his relatives were taken hostage (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9, 10, 11 and 12 March 2004).

Few Challengers

The one influential political figure who could have posed a serious challenge to Kadyrov in the event of his election to parliament has been squeezed out of the race. Beslan Gantamirov, the former Grozny mayor who served as a deputy prime minister under Akhmad-hadji Kadyrov, announced in June his intention of participating in the ballot with the backing of Rodina (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 June 2005). "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 9 August identified Gantamirov -- who has his own armed force and, according to "Vremya novostei" on 10 June, enjoys the support of several wealthy Moscow-based Chechen entrepreneuers -- as one of three centers of power in Chechnya, along with Ramzan Kadyrov and the Yamadaev brothers, Sulim and Ruslan. Relations between Kadyrov and the Yamadaevs deteriorated sharply during the summer following the exodus in late May of residents from the village of Borodinovskaya in the wake of a punitive raid for which Sulim Yamadaev's Eastern Battalion was blamed, but they have since buried their differences, according to "Izvestiya" on 13 October.

As recently as mid-September, Rodina leader Dmitrii Rogozin told "Izvestiya" that Gantamirov would head the Rodina list for the Chechen ballot. But when that final list was made public in late October, Gantamirov's name was not on it. "The Moscow Times" on 24 October quoted Rogozin as having told "Vedomosti" his party decided to ditch Gantamirov because the conflict between Gantamirov and Ramazan Kadyrov "threatened stability" in Chechnya. Rodina's Nikolai Buragov gave a slightly different explanation, telling RFE/RL on 21 November that the party's presidium decided not to include "prominent" Chechens on its list. He denied that any pressure was exerted on Rodina to come to that decision. "The decision was taken by the party, by the president of the party's presidium, because we did not include our leaders in the list of candidates for the State Duma elections," Buragov said. "This is a cohesive approach, and so we did not include prominent people there [in Chechnya] either."

Gantamirov himself has maintained a discreet silence concerning his failure to participate in the elections, possibly because he knows he is being held in reserve by the Kremlin to be deployed against Kadyrov should the latter become too difficult to control.

Nor is Gantamirov the only candidate to be dropped from a place at the top of one of the party lists. Taus Dzhabrailov, chairman of the State Council (the interim legislature established after the 2003 referendum) and until recently a close associate and ally of Kadyrov, initially figured second on the Unified Russia party list. But he was removed in favor of Deputy Prime Minister and Agriculture Minister Dukvakha Abdurakhmanov. Dzhabrailov will run instead in a single-mandate constituency, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 23 November, but can no longer count on receiving the post of speaker in the new parliament.

With a compliant and allegedly democratically elected parliament behind him, Ramzan Kadyrov will be ideally placed to lay claim to the role of "president" as soon as he turns 30 -- the minimum age -- in October 2006.