Since Russian President Dmitry Medvedev proposed his presidential candidacy on February 8, the younger Magomedov has repeatedly stressed his commitment to promoting "the consolidation of society", presumably meaning in the first instance, although he did not say so explicitly, harmony between the various ethnic groups. Whether and how he can deliver on that pledge remains to be seen.
For the past three months, there has been intense speculation about whether Medvedev would name outgoing President Mukhu Aliyev to serve a second term, and if not, which of the other four candidates on the short list would be selected. That speculation focused not just on the relative merits and qualification of the five men and who in the Kremlin was perceived as backing them, but on their ethnicity. When the collective presidency on which each of Daghestan's 14 titular nationalities was represented was abolished in 2003, it was on the unwritten understanding that the post of president should alternate between the republic's two largest ethnic groups, the Avars (who account for 29.4 percent of the total population of 2.7 million) and the Dargins (16.5 percent). Magomedali Magomedov, a Dargin, was succeeded in 2006 by Aliyev, an Avar. Of the five prospective candidates whose names were submitted to Medvedev in December, Aliyev and three others were Avars; Magomedsalam Magomedov was the sole Dargin.
Most observers in Makhachkala and Moscow initially anticipated that Medvedev would choose between Aliyev and Medvedev's former fellow student at law school, Magomed Abdullayev. Vremya.ru on February 9 reported that Abdullayev had been allocated an office in the presidential administration administration building in Makhachakala several months earlier, presumably in anticipation that nothing could prevent his nomination as president. Magomedov for his part told the daily "Kommersant" that he was informed he had been picked only the day before the announcement was made public.
The choice of Magomedov was therefore unexpected, but several factors may have had a bearing on it. First, Aliyev may have disqualified himself by his overt interference in the mayoral election in Derbent last October. He reportedly sent virtually the entire cabinet to campaign on behalf of incumbent mayor Feliks Kaziakhmedov, who according to official returns was duly reelected with 67.5 percent of the vote. The voting took place in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation, with up to one third of all polling stations remaining closed. Supporters of Kaziakhmedov's main rival, former Prosecutor General Imam Yaraliyev, took to the streets to protest the irregularities. In late December, Daghestan's Supreme Court declared the outcome null and void and called for a repeat ballot.
Alternatively, Medvedev may have opted to honor both the unwritten agreement on alternating between an Avar and a Dargin as president, and a similarly unwritten agreement concluded between Aliyev and then Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2006 that Magomedsalam Magomedov should serve for four years as parliament speaker and then succeed Aliyev as president. Aliyev, however, violated that agreement by engineering the election in April 2007 as parliament speaker of Izberbash Mayor Magomed Suleymanov to replace Magomedov.
Finally, Putin recently criticized the most prominent alternative Dargin candidate, Makhachkala Mayor Said Amirov, in connection with the protracted stand-off between the municipal authorities and the republic's main electricity supplier. The city's chronic failure to pay its debts has led to repeated power outages during the winter months. Irate residents of the capital regularly take to the streets to protest those outages.
Despite the existence within the republican parliament of a number of rival factions, some united by ethnicity and others by business interests, deputies voted unanimously on February 10 to approve Magomedov. Several prominent political figures who had fallen out with Aliyev, including Yaraliyev and Kizlyar District head Saygid Murtuzaliyev, showed up for that parliament session for the first time after a long absence.
In his inaugural speech on February 20, Magomedov singled out as priorities consolidation of society, strengthening law and order, economic modernization, reducing unemployment, and seeking dialogue with those Islamic militants who are prepared to lay down their arms. He admitted that he has "no illusions" that his job will be an easy one, and said he considers it "irresponsible" to make "unrealistic" promises.
Daghestan's cabinet resigned on February 21, the day after Magomedov's inauguration, and he has not yet named a new prime minister. Under Aliyev, the post of premier was held by a Kumyk, most recently by Shamil Zaynalov. The Kumyks are Daghestan's third-largest ethnic group, and are angry at the prospect of having to cede the post to an Avar. Regnum on February 8 quoted Magomedov as saying that in order to preserve national parity he would appoint an Avar as prime minister. But in a subsequent interview with "Kommersant," he implied that ethnicity will not after all be a consideration. "There is no quota system by nationality written into the constitution. I consider all Daghestanis equal and I will not select people for my team on the basis of their nationality. I will pick them solely on the basis of their professional capabilities," Magomedov told the paper. "We do not divide -- I personally do not divide -- Daghestanis into Avars, Dargins, Kumyks, Lezgins, and so forth. We are one single family, we are all Daghestanis," Magomedov said.
Aliyev was conspicuous by his absence from Magomedov's inauguration, which suggests that some Avars may seek to create obstacles for the new president. But reclusive Moscow-based billionaire Suleiman Kerimov did attend. Karimov is a Lezgin, as is former Prosecutor-General Yaraliyev.