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Is Ingushetia Heading For A New Political Standoff?

Ingush President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov
Ingush President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov
Ingushetian President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov was discharged from hospital in Moscow today, exactly seven weeks after sustaining serious injuries in a suicide-bomb attack. He is likely to resume his duties by the end of this month, by which time political tensions may be on the rise in the run-up to the municipal elections scheduled for October 11.

Since Russian President Dmitry Medvedev appointed him president in late October 2008, Yevkurov has made a valiant effort to win back the trust of a population alienated and disgusted by the corruption, mismanagement, injustice, economic decline, and arbitrary police violence that had become a byword under his predecessor Murat Zyazikov. Yevkurov dismissed some of the more compromised members of the previous government, and won over some opposition political figures. But within a couple of months, he was faced with a new political challenge in the face of orchestrated opposition to the planned legislation on local government that would have formalized the republic's current borders and territorial-administrative structure.

Radical oppositionists protested that the passage of that legislation would be tantamount to abandoning any claim to territory in neighboring Chechnya and North Ossetia that in the early Soviet period was administratively part of Ingushetia, and that they have lobbied for years to have returned to Ingushetia's jurisdiction.

In early January, Yevkurov scheduled for January 31 an "all-national congress of the Ingush people" to discuss the election law and other pressing issues. Then in what some oppositionists construed as a blatant bid by Moscow to buy them off, on January 20 President Medvedev made a surprise visit to Nazran where he announced 29 billion rubles ($832.6 million) in economic aid over the next six years.

Also on January 20, Yevkurov met for two hours with 10 delegates to the upcoming all-national congress but failed to reach a consensus over the draft law. Yevkurov continued to insist that it should be adopted in the original form, which stated that the Republic of Ingushetia (RI) consists of three municipalities -- Nazran, Sunzha, and Malgobek -- but which also contains the proviso that the law does not extend to the territories that in accordance with the April 1991 Law on the Rehabilitation of the Repressed Peoples should be incorporated into the RI.

In other words, it left the door open for amending the composition of the RI in future to incorporate more territory. The 10 congress delegates for their part argued without success that the draft law should be amended to stipulate that Prigorodny Raion, currently part of North Ossetia, and other territories regarded as historic Ingush land are part of the RI. Both sides did agree, however, on the need to delineate formally the present administrative border between the RI and the Chechen Republic.

The all-national congress took place as planned, but delegates did not amend the draft law to take into account the opposition's objections; parliament adopted the law in its original wording three weeks later. A small group of radical oppositionists issued an appeal in March, calling for a referendum on whether the existing borders between Ingushetia and its neighbors should be changed, but to no avail.

The local election campaign opened on July 29. Ingushetian Prime Minister Rashid Gaysanov, who in line with the Ingushetian constitution took over as acting president while Yevkurov was incapacitated, told "Vremya novostei" that the republic's leaders have told local political parties they should include on their respective lists of candidates for election to municipal councils representatives of different extended families, religious faiths, and ethnic groups, women, and younger people. Candidates should, he continued, be known and respected outside their immediate families.

Such affirmations are unlikely, however, to allay the skepticism of the radical opposition, which has released a statement accusing the authorities of preparing to rig the outcome of the elections. That statement claims that relatives and close friends of leading officials, including Gaysanov, Deputy Prime Minister Magomed-Sali Aushev, and parliament speaker Makhmud Sakalov, are prominently represented on the lists of potential candidates.

The statement recalls the March 2008 elections to the republic's parliament: one month before that vote, the opposition posted on the website what it claimed was the list of candidates to be "elected" whom Zyazikov had hand-picked in advance. Many of them were indeed subsequently elected in a ballot in which the turnout figure was almost certainly artificially inflated.

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.


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