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Caucasus Report: May 3, 2002

3 May 2002, Volume 5, Number 15

KREMLIN CANDIDATE ELECTED PRESIDENT IN INGUSHETIA. Federal Security Service (FSB) General Murat Zyazikov, who is deputy presidential envoy to the South Russia Federal District, was elected president of Ingushetia in a runoff ballot on 28 April, garnering some 53 percent of the vote, ITAR-TASS reported on 30 April quoting a member of Ingushetia's Central Electoral Commission (TsIK). Russian State Duma Deputy Alikhan Amirkhanov, who placed first in the first round on 7 April with 32 percent of the vote compared with Zyazikov's 19 percent, polled 42 percent. TsIK Chairman Kazbek Kostoev told ITAR-TASS on 28 April that "there have been no reports of flagrant violations from polling stations."

Zyazikov, who is 45, was born in Osh in Kirghizia, presumably into a family deported from Checheno-Ingushetia in 1944 and which returned to the North Caucasus after 1956. He graduated in 1980 from the Checheno-Ingush State University and made his career as a Communist Party official and in the security services, according to ITAR-TASS. His opponents claimed that his presidential candidacy was backed by Russian presidential envoy to the South Russia Federal District Viktor Kazantsev (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 5, No. 14, 25 April 2002). But Zyazikov himself denied this in an interview with RFE/RL's Russian Service in which he affirmed that "the people of Ingushetia, and no one else, are behind me."

In what former Ingushetian President Ruslan Aushev described as "unprecedented harassment," Amirkhanov's campaign headquarters were searched immediately after the first round of voting, and local police opened a criminal case against him on charges of trying to bribe voters. Aushev, who for years has been at odds with the Russian leadership in general and with presidential envoy to the South Russia Federal District Viktor Kazantsev in particular, openly supported Amirkhanov, who had vowed to continue Aushev's policies.

Some feared that Amirkhanov would be disqualified on the eve of the runoff vote. But Moscow apparently decided against doing so for fear of triggering protests: Russian Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov told journalists in Moscow on 27 April that the pre-runoff situation in Ingushetia was "complicated," and that it would be difficult to explain Amirkhanov's disqualification from the ballot to voters just hours before the polls were due to open.

Chechen Prime Minister Stanislav Ilyasov hailed Zyazikov's victory, telling journalists on 29 April that he knows Zyazikov well and is confident of finding common ground with him. (Liz Fuller)

SECOND-GUESSING HEIDAR ALIEV. Speaking in Baku on 22 April prior to his departure to attend the Ashgabat Caspian summit, Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliyev reaffirmed his intention to run for a third presidential term in the elections due in October 2003. Aliyev added that his son Ilham will not participate in the ballot as the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party will field only one candidate.

The reasons that prompted President Aliev's decision to seek a third five-year term at the age of 80 can only be guessed at. Many observers both in Azerbaijan and beyond have for several years assumed that Heidar Aliyev was grooming Ilham to succeed him. It has even been suggested that President Aliev's overtures to Moscow over the past couple of years were prompted at least in part by a desire to secure the support of the Russian leadership for that "succession plan." But some analysts are convinced that Aliyev is so obsessed with exercising power that he would die in office rather than opt for the "Yeltsin scenario" and step down to allow someone else, even his son, to take over.

Nor is it clear how enthusiastic Ilham Aliyev is at the prospect of succeeding his father as president. In a recent extensive interview in "Izvestiya," he argued that while he considers it imperative that the policies espoused by his father be continued "for many, many years and decades," the question of who implements those policies is only of secondary importance. That formulation could suggest that Ilham has made it clear to his father that he does not want the responsibility, and that Heidar Aliyev may be considering an alternative candidate for president with whom Ilham would work in tandem -- as either parliament speaker or prime minister.

As for Azerbaijan's fractious opposition parties, even though they have now aligned for tactical reasons in two broad coalitions, it seems unlikely that either the United Azerbaijani Opposition (UAO) or the rival grouping could agree on a single presidential candidate who could pose a serious challenge to the incumbent. UAO candidates are likely to include Isa Gambar and Rasul Guliev, who head the Musavat and Democratic parties, and whoever emerges as leader of the conservative wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AHCP), assuming that those members of the rival reformist wing who recently quit to protest the high-handed leadership of Ali Kerimli (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 5, No. 14, 25 April 2002) realign with the conservatives rather than form a separate party. If Kerimli's wing of the AHCP survives the tide of defections, he too may well decide to contest the 2003 ballot, while his coalition partner Etibar Mamedov, who according to official returns came second in the 1998 presidential elections with 11.6 percent of the vote, will almost certainly make a further bid for the presidency.

If President Aliev's reaffirmation of his presidential plans was not prompted by the current domestic political situation, which may change fundamentally over the next 17 months, what other factors could have been in play? One is the political situation in Armenia. The decision by a presidential commission on 2 April to strip the independent TV station A1+ of its broadcast frequency served as the catalyst for a loose coalition of 13 opposition parties which, according to Albert Bazeyan, one of the leaders of Hanrapetutiun, will try to reach agreement on fielding a single candidate to challenge incumbent President Robert Kocharian. Kocharian's presidential term expires in the spring of 2003, and he already announced last fall that he will seek re-election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September 2001).

While the Armenian opposition is convinced that Kocharian stands virtually no chance of winning in a free and fair ballot, it is by no means clear which potential opposition candidate would stand the best chance of defeating him. But that is not the most crucial point at issue. The ferocity with which the opposition has criticized Kocharian, not only over the outcome of the A1+ tender but also in connection with the suspended sentence handed down in February to a member of his bodyguard found guilty of the manslaughter of an Armenian from Georgia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2002), means that the embattled president cannot afford to take any decision that would play into the opposition's hands. And specifically, he cannot at this juncture, or at any point between now and March 2003, agree to any major concessions in the Karabakh mediation process that would lay him open to accusations that he has betrayed Armenian interests.

President Aliev, for his part, cannot but be aware of this. He may therefore have calculated that he has a breathing space of almost one year in which to concentrate primarily on domestic political issues, in the first instance on ensuring his own re-election in October 2003, possibly with a more modest majority than the 76 percent he polled in 1998, and on strengthening his son's power base.

Having achieved those two objectives, he could then turn again to the Karabakh problem. And if the next Armenian president proves to be more flexible than Kocharian, Aliyev might succeed in wresting from him a peace deal that he could present to the Azerbaijani population as a victory. Securing a peace deal that preserved Nagorno-Karabakh as a constituent part of the Azerbaijan Republic would significantly lighten the negative legacy he passed on to Ilham. (Liz Fuller)

GEORGIA POSTPONES TRANSITION TO GENUINE LOCAL SELF-GOVERNMENT. On 24 April RFE/RL's Tbilisi bureau moderated a roundtable discussion that focused on whether the delayed local elections now scheduled for 2 June would actually take place on that date, and if so, whether they would constitute a genuine transition to local self-government.

The two discussants, both parliament deputies, were unanimous in arguing that the elections should not be postponed again (they had originally been scheduled for November 2001 but were delayed on the grounds that the budget did not contain the necessary funds). Vasili Maghlaperidze (Union of Citizens of Georgia) argued that it is imperative to abide by the new time frame rather than create a dangerous precedent by violating the law on the intervals between such ballots. Vakhtang Khmaladze (Industrialists) said that while no one publicly disputes the need to hold the elections on schedule, he fears that some political parties or individual politicians might try to delay the vote, possibly adducing organizational problems. He pointed out that some parties may calculate that they would receive a larger share of the vote if the elections were postponed until the fall of this year.

In the wake of the earthquake that caused severe damage to the Georgian capital on 25 April, some political figures did in fact propose canceling the election and using the funds earmarked for them for reconstruction. But in his traditional Monday radio broadcast on 29 April, President Eduard Shevardnadze argued against doing so, as has parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze.

Khmaladze went on to pinpoint what he termed the most crucial issue on which the parliament factions had not yet reached agreement, namely whether or not to amend the election law to provide for regional governors and the mayors of major towns to be popularly elected, rather than appointed by the president as at present. Khmaladze noted that the majority of parliament deputies have expressed their support for that amendment, but added that he suspects that "in their heart of hearts" they may have reservations about that innovation and ultimately vote against it.

Both Khmaladze and Maghlaperidze argued eloquently in favor of changing the law to provide for the election of regional governors and city mayors. Maghlaperidze denounced the present system as a "hybrid" and "a holdover from the 19th century" which creates a "top-down" situation of administration in which the mayor or governor is free to take into consideration, and act on, only those instructions handed down from his superior, rather than be guided by the needs of the local population.

Maghlaperidze also argued that it is impossible for even an intelligent and well-informed president to have a detailed knowledge of conditions in all Georgia's 70-odd raions and to be able on the basis of that knowledge invariably to appoint the best-qualified candidate as local administrator. There have, Maghlaperidze noted, been numerous cases in which the population has complained that the governor they were saddled with was incompetent, or corrupt, or both. Conversely, some governors who were honest, hard-working, and respected by the local population have been transferred to other posts for no apparent reason. But at the same time, in an apparent contradiction of his earlier point that the local elections must take place on schedule, Maghlaperidze said that "there is no point" in holding them unless the election law is amended to allow for regional governors and mayors to be elected.

Khmaladze similarly made the point that an appointed governor has to please only the man who appointed him, while an elected governor needs to win the confidence and approval of more than half the local electorate.

Maghlaperidze also rejected as ridiculous the argument, cited by some Georgian politicians, that "the population is not yet mature enough" to vote for regional administrators. If people are mature enough to vote for a parliament or a president, he asked, how can they not be mature enough to choose the man responsible for such decisions as whether or not to build a new hospital in the town where they live?

In this context, RFE/RL moderator David Paichadze raised a further aspect of local self-government, namely the regions' financial dependence on the center. Khmaladze explained that for local self-government to become a reality, several additional laws must be passed: one defining the division of responsibilities between the regions and the center, one specifying which land is state-owned and which is the property of the regions, and one giving regions the decisive say in the formation of their budgets and how that money is to be spent. Without such legislation, which has already been drafted, Khmaladze said, self-government will remain "a myth."

But in the event, Khmaladze's doubts proved well-founded. Although most opposition factions had spoken in favor of amending the law to introduce elections for regional governors, when parliament voted on the amendments on 25 April in the third and final reading that amendment, which President Shevardnadze had resolutely opposed, failed to pass. (Liz Fuller)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "I think [the U.S. military instructors] are going to teach us to do things we've seen only in Hollywood movies." -- Georgian conscript Imedo Zaridze, quoted by Reuters (30 April).

"As a native of the Caucasus I find it difficult to envisage that the American flag could fly somewhere in the region and American officers could come and go as they please and that everything would be rosy and peaceful. That sort of thing doesn't happen in the Caucasus." -- North Ossetian President Aleksandr Dzasokhov, in an interview published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 22 April.

"Over the past 10 years we have signed masses of treaties with Russia, including a long-term agreement on the presence of [Russian] military bases on Georgian territory. And what have we received in return? Nothing." -- Georgian parliament Chairwoman Nino Burdjanadze, in an interview published in "Ezhenedelnyi zhurnal," 8 April 2002.

"It has become fashionable to criticize President Eduard Shevardnadze." -- Georgian Ambassador to Moscow Zurab Abashidze, commenting on the domestic political situation in an interview in "Nezavisimaya gazeta," 19 April.

"A generation has grown up that does not remember that war [in Abkhazia in 1992-93]. And Shevardnadze is placing his hopes on that generation." -- An unnamed officer serving with the Russian peacekeeping force deployed in the Abkhaz conflict zone (quoted by "Moskovskie novosti," 23 April 2002).

"There will be peace in the world when everyone's right to a place in the region which he feels a part of and to which he historically belongs is recognized. Any violation of the will of nations always results in violence and war conflicts." -- Czech President Vaclav Havel, speaking in Prague on 2 May (quoted by RFE/RL).