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Caucasus Report: October 19, 2000

19 October 2000, Volume 3, Number 41

Azerbaijan Election Update. On 16 October, Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliyev said he plans to ask the Central Electoral Commission to register all those candidates who have applied to contend the 5 November parliamentary poll in single mandate districts. He said those whose applications were initially rejected by the CEC include "many" members of his Yeni Azerbaycan Party. No official instruction to the CEC to that effect has yet been published, however. Aliyev warned the press not to accuse him of violating the law in connection with his proposed request. Some commentators had protested that the CEC's compliance with Aliev's 8 October request to register eight political parties that had originally been barred from contesting the party list seats was illegal and unconstitutional.

As of 16 October, the CEC had registered a total of 409 candidates to contest 99 single mandate constituencies. Of that number, 147 were at least nominally independent, 140 represent Yeni Azerbaycan, 40 the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, 28 the Azerbaijan National Independence Party, 22 Musavat, and four the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan. A further 14 small parties have registered between one and four candidates each.

Meanwhile, the Azerbaijani press continues to report cases in which district electoral commissions refuse to register candidates, or local authorities try to prevent opposition candidates from meeting with prospective voters. Azerbaijan Popular Front Party First Deputy Chairman Ali Kerimov has encountered such obstruction in Azerbaijan's northwestern Zakatala and Balakan Raions, according to "Azadlyg" on 19 October.

At the national level, however, the authorities have made some concessions. For example, for the first time since he left the country in 1996, exiled former parliamentary speaker and Democratic Party of Azerbaijan chairman Rasul Guliev was granted air time on Azerbaijan state television on 18 October in order to summarize his party's economic program.

Such gestures may not be sufficient to persuade opposition political figures that the ballot will indeed be free and fair. Matlab Mutallimli, who is head of the Social Justice Party and a deputy in the outgoing legislature, has claimed to be in possession of a list of those very few opposition candidates whose election in single-mandate constituencies has been "approved" in advance by the country's leadership. On the eve of the last parliamentary ballot in November 1995, Party of National Statehood leader Neimat Panakhli similarly claimed to have obtained such an advance list, which corresponded almost 100 percent to the composition of the parliament that was subsequently elected. (Liz Fuller)

Is Kadyrov On The Way Out? In an interview published in "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 14 October, Russian presidential representative in the South Russia federal district Viktor Kazantsev expressed his dissatisfaction with the present system for administering Chechnya. Kazantsev said he has drafted possible amendments to the legislation establishing that system which have been submitted to the Russian Security Council, but declined to give details. He added however, that in his opinion, what is needed is "the total centralization of administration of the republic. A coordinator is needed who will assume responsibility for the economy, for the control of financial flows, for the activity of the force structures-- for everything."

The following day, both Kazantsev and Colonel General Gennadii Troshev, the commander of the joint federal forces in Chechnya, held what was termed "a working meeting" in Sochi with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss "questions concerned with the 'normalization' of the situation in Chechnya."

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 19 October cited unnamed sources within the Russian State Duma as predicting that Troshev will very shortly be named to replace interim Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov. The paper recalls that Kadyrov's powers are minimal, and that some observers had inferred that his appointment to that position in June was a strictly temporary measure intended to demonstrate that it is not feasible for a Chechen to administer Chechnya at this juncture.

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" goes on to point out that Troshev would not be a bad choice to replace Kadyrov: he was born in Chechnya, and has reportedly won the respect of the local population by trying to reach agreements with local elders that the latter would bar Chechen fighters from their villages, rather than simply open fire on villages suspected of harboring guerrilla fighters as his colleague Colonel General Vladimir Shamanov is reputed to do.

Troshev, however, said in June, shortly before Kadyrov's appointment, that he had no intention of accepting the post of Chechen administrator if it were offered to him. Whether he would now do agree to do so is unclear.

One further factor that is likely to have a bearing on the eventual choice of successor for Kadyrov is Kazantsev's 18 October announcement that Beslan Gantemirov has been named as Grozny mayor -- the post he held in 1995-1996 prior to his arrest on charges of embezzling billions of rubles intended for reconstruction. Kazantsev simultaneously hailed the reconciliation between Kadyrov and Gantemirov, who had been at odds almost since the day of Kadyrov's appointment (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 29, 21 July 2000 and No. 37, 15 September 2000). That "armistice," Kazantsev commented, "is the first step towards establishing peace in Chechnya." Gantemirov's main duties, Kazantsev continued, are "to stop the explosions and shellings in Grozny, to win back people's trust, and to restore order there with an iron hand." (Liz Fuller)

Is Ruslan Gelaev In Georgia? A Russian Interior Ministry official claimed in early August that federal forces have captured at least 20 Chechen field commanders since September 1999; two more are reported to have been killed and one captured in the past two months. Among those still at large is Ruslan Gelaev, who as of early last year commanded some 500 men in south-western Chechnya.

Despite the reputation he won during the first (1994-1996) Chechen war as a first-rate military commander, Gelaev has consistently been eclipsed by more flamboyant figures such as Shamil Basaev and Khattab. According to "Kommersant-Daily," Gelaev is known as "a man of honor" and "a real warrior," and is said not to be involved in either banditry or terrorism. It is not clear whether Gelaev's apparent distaste for such activities has any bearing on his ongoing feud with rival field commander Arbi Baraev, who is sometimes described as a radical Islamist responsible for numerous hostage-takings and for the 1998 execution of four Western telephone engineers.

Gelaev and Baraev have been at odds at least since March of this year, when Baraev reportedly promised to send men to relieve Gelaev, who was pinned down by Russian forces in the village of Komsomolskoe. Baraev's failure to make good on that promise resulted in the loss of many of Gelaev's men. Supporters of the two commanders are reported to have engaged in a shootout in late May in which 47 Chechen fighters were killed.

More recently, in late September, field commander Sulim Yamadaev, who has aligned himself with interim Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, said representatives of Kadyrov's team are negotiating with Ruslan Gelaev in an attempt to persuade him to surrender. But "Liberation" on 17 October reported that Gelaev together with some 160 followers has crossed into neighboring Georgia where he is awaiting the most opportune moment to return to Chechnya. (Liz Fuller)

Sagittarius Rising. The two-month-long standoff between the two Armenian political parties aligned in the majority Miasnutiun parliament bloc has overshadowed the collapse of the small Right and Accord bloc that comprised seven deputies from the Union of Constitutional Rights (SIM) and the National Unity Party. Those two parties disagreed over whether to cooperate with the present government: National Unity ruled out any such cooperation, whereas SIM advocated trying to find common ground with the authorities. The SIM finally withdrew from the Right and Accord bloc in late September to protest National Unity Party leader Artashes Geghamian's refusal to agree to rotate the position of head of the bloc's parliament faction.

Even before the collapse of the Right and Accord bloc, Geghamian had embarked on a series of meetings around the country at which, resorting on occasion to populist rhetoric, he criticized the cabinet of Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, outlined his alternative approach to resolving Armenia's problems, and called on President Robert Kocharian to dissolve parliament and call pre-term elections. (In an interview with RFE/RL in early September, Geghamian had said pre-term elections should be called only after the conclusion of the trial of those accused of the October 1999 Armenian parliament shootings. No date has yet been set for that trial.) He expressed confidence that he will be able to collect "hundreds of thousands" of signatures in support of new elections, and warned that if the president refuses to dissolve the existing legislature, "the people, who have nothing to lose, could easily be stirred to action by revolutionary appeals."

But if any Armenian politician is likely to embark on that path of "revolutionary appeals," then it is Geghamian himself, and his ultimate objective, according to the independent daily "Aravot" on 18 October, is to succeed Kocharian as president. A former first secretary of the Yerevan City Party Committee of the Armenian Communist Party, the 50-year old Geghamian finished seventh of a field of 12 candidates in the pre-term March 1998 presidential ballot, garnering only 0.45 percent of the vote. (Interviewed by this writer on the eve of the first round of voting, he declined to give any details of his background and previous career, except to note that he was born under the sign of Sagittarius and considers himself a gentleman.)

Geghamian's presidential campaign program advocated adopting a model of economic development that combines a free market with social guarantees for the most vulnerable strata of the population. He further listed as priorities improving social conditions as a result of stable economic policies that would contribute to the emergence of a middle class, enhancing the role of the family and of women in society, restoring the region of northern Armenia devastated by the 1988 earthquake, and encouraging the return to Armenia of those who have emigrated in recent years in search of employment and better living conditions.

In early August, rumors circulated that Geghamian and Stepan Demirchian, the leader of the People's Party of Armenia (HZhk), had discussed the possibility of the latter quitting Miasnutiun and aligning with Right and Accord (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 31, 3 August 2000), but that realignment never materialized.

The newspaper "Aravot" reported on 11 October that following the collapse of Right and Accord, Geghamian had embarked on talks with the Armenian Communist Party and the Union of Socialist Forces headed by former presidential security advisor Ashot Manucharian on creating a new left-wing alliance. The three groups are united in their antagonism towards Kocharian. But Communist Party parliament deputy Yurii Manukian denied the following day that his party was considering any such alliance. (Liz Fuller)

Corruption And Political Power In Georgia. On 13 October parliament deputy Vasilii Maghlaperidze (Union of Citizens of Georgia) presented the results of an analysis of the annual property declarations submitted by 400 Georgian officials. That analysis established that some 80 percent of those officials fall into two distinct groups, the very rich and the impoverished. Maghlaperidze said that 178 officials own private property valued at 1 million lari ($500,000) or more, and their expenses far exceed their declared incomes, which are generally classified as gifts, profits or inheritance.

A second group of 189 statesmen presents a diametrically opposed picture, however. That group has an average income lower than the subsistence minimum of 6.25 lari per family member per month.

Parliament chairman Zurab Zhvania has since charged Maghlaperidze with drafting amendments to the legislation on property declarations to remove loopholes.

On 16 October, Caucasus Press cited a World Bank survey that found that 65 percent of an unspecified number of Georgian businessmen questioned pay a minimum of $120 per month in bribes in order to understate the income generated by their company. Multiplying that figure by the estimated number of businesses in Georgia, which is 50,000, one arrives at the sum of $6 million per month or $72 million per year.

A UN Development Program report summarized by Caucasus Press the following day offers an analogous picture: it calculated that 40 percent of the incomes of the population of Georgia derive from illegal business. The report highlights what it terms the "unique" nature of corruption in Georgia, noting that whereas in other countries large foreign firms resort to bribery to win contracts, in Georgia the efforts of corrupt officials are directed -- as Maghlaperidze claimed -- to concealing the extent of their activities and profits. The UNDP concludes that the only way to eradicate corruption in Georgia is to legalize the shadow economy.

Representatives of a third body that focuses on corruption, the Group for Corruption of the Council of Europe (GRECO), said at a meeting in Tbilisi on 17 October with Deputy Prosecutor General Anzor Baluashvili that they consider that current legislation, especially on economic crime, is inadequate to eliminate corruption in Georgia.

In his traditional weekly radio broadcast on 16 October, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said that his anti-corruption commission has completed its survey of the extent of corruption in Georgia, and that those findings, however unpalatable, will be made public. (Liz Fuller)

Quotations Of The Week. "The [Chechen] people want peace. They have a right to it." -- Lord Russell Johnston, chairman of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, commenting on the car bomb that killed 10 people in Grozny on 12 October (quoted by Interfax).

"No one was ever charged with such grave crimes [as I was]. The most prominent criminals may envy me in this connection." -- Opposition "Yeni Musavat" editor Rauf Arifoglu, speaking after his release on bail. He has been charged with an aircraft hijack, plotting a coup d'etat, terrorism, and illegal possession of arms (quoted by Turan on 13 October).