Mamsurov, who celebrated his 55th birthday earlier this month, was born in Beslan and graduated in 1971 from the school that was to make world headlines during the hostage taking by radical Chechen fighters in September 2004. He began his political career first as a Komsomol activist and then as a Communist Party official, then in 1990 was named a local government official in North Ossetia. In 1994, he was elected first deputy chairman of the republic's parliament. Aleksandr Dzasokhov, who was elected republican president in February 1998, picked Mamsurov to head the republic's government; 18 months later Mamsurov was named to head the North Ossetian parliament.
Then Russian President Vladimir Putin nominated Mamsurov as president in June 2005 to succeed Dzasokhov, whose reputation was irrevocably tarnished by his handling of the Beslan school hostage taking. (Mothers of some of the children killed launched a campaign in 2008 to have Dzasokhov recalled from his new post as one of North Ossetia's representatives on the Federation Council.) Two of Mamsurov's four children were among the 1,138 hostages and were seriously wounded when Russian special forces stormed the school building; Mamsurov had turned down an offer by the hostage takers to release them.
Over the next few years, North Ossetia was spared a recurrence of the violence and instability that plagued neighboring Ingushetia, Chechnya, and Daghestan. But the situation began to deteriorate in 2008, with three fatal attacks on police officers followed by the murders in October of Albert Fadzayev, a cousin of Olympic wrestling champion and State Duma deputy Arsen Fadayev; in late November of Vladikavkaz Mayor Vitaly Karayev; and on December 31 of Council of Ministers Deputy Chairman Kazbek Pagiyev.
The tensions generated by that wave of killings were exacerbated by the resignation in mid-November of 15 of the 32 members of the Vladikavkaz municipal council to protest the candidacy of businessman Igor Kasabiyev as its chairman. Almost half the republic's 700,000-plus population lives in Vladikavkaz.
At that time, the municipal council was split into rival factions -- one loyal to Mamsurov and the other to Fadzayev -- but both representing the pro-Kremlin United Russia party. New elections were held in April 2009, giving United Russia candidates from the Mamsurov faction 24 mandates, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation -- four, and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia and A Just Russia -- two each. Former Pension Fund head and Mamsurov loyalist Bella Ikoyeva was elected council chairwoman in early May, and republican Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Dzantiyev was elected city mayor on May 28.
During the first few years of Mamsurov's stewardship, North Ossetia registered a modest economic upswing, with industrial output growing by 14 percent between 2006-09 and agricultural production by 19 percent. In early 2008, then Southern Federal District head Grigory Rapota praised the North Ossetian leadership for their "clear vision of how to move forward."
At the same time, the republic's dependence on federal subsidies to balance the budget declined, from 61 percent in 2006 to 55 percent in 2007 and under 50 percent in 2008. But unemployment, especially among the rural population and college graduates, remained high, and the republic's economy was badly hit by the global economic crisis.
What Have You Done For Me Lately?
Fadzayev, who had reportedly nursed hopes of being named to succeed Mamsurov as president, has made a point of stressing the limits to what Mamsurov has accomplished. He told the news agency Regnum on April 12 that the new president should "coordinate work in such a way that people will be able to live far better than they do today, that people will finally experience change for the better."
An opinion poll of just 600 people conducted several months ago at the behest of the republican chapter of the LDPR found that Fadzayev was vastly more popular than Mamsurov, especially among the younger generation. Fadzayev was the favorite of 72 percent of those polled; Mamsurov's rating was 12 percent, followed by parliament speaker Larisa Khabitsova with 11 percent.
Medvedev's decision to nominate Mamsurov, rather than either of the two alternative presidential candidates proposed by United Russia, may reflect his appreciation of Mamsurov's longtime public commitment to closer ties between his republic and Georgia's breakaway republic of South Ossetia. Prior to Moscow's formal recognition of South Ossetia as an independent state, Mamsurov had repeatedly advocated the unification of the two regions within the Russian Federation.
Although Fadzayev, too, publicly expressed support for South Ossetian independence as early as November 2007, he has no managerial or administrative experience. He was elected to the Russian State Duma in 2003 and 2007, and is currently deputy chairman of the Duma's Committee for CIS Affairs.