Tkhakushinov, 64, is a former rector of the Maikop State Technological University. He was named republic head in December 2006, succeeding gold magnate Khazret Sovmen, who complained in his valedictory address that all his efforts to crack down on corruption and entrenched economic and bureaucratic interests ran up against a brick wall, and that much of the money he invested in trying to galvanize the region's economy was embezzled.
A largely Slav-populated and predominantly agricultural enclave within Krasnodar Krai, Adygeya has remained an oasis of peace and stability on the northwestern fringe of the turbulent North Caucasus -- which may account for the decision in January 2010 to leave it in the Southern Federal District, rather than include it in the new North Caucasus Federal District headed by Aleksandr Khloponin.
Statistical data suggest that Tkhakushinov has presided over a modest economic upswing. The percentage of the republic's annual budget covered by subsidies from the federal budget has reportedly decreased by over 10 percent in recent years, from 61 percent to 49 percent; officially registered unemployment has fallen by more than half, from 4.4 to 1.9 percent; and since 2007, Adygeya has attracted 51 billion rubles ($1.625 billion) in investment.
Tkhakushinov's detractors paint a very different picture, however. In an open letter addressed to Medvedev last month, they claim that real unemployment in Adygeya is rising, and the exodus of young people in search of work is now so great that it "poses a threat to social stability." They claim that a mass protest demonstration is being organized in Maikop, the republican capital.
For good measure, they also argue that relations between Adygeya and the neighboring regions of Krasnodar Krai, Karachayevo-Cherkessia, and Kabardino-Balkaria have worsened dramatically over the past four years. And, crucially, they allege that Tkhakushinov's health is so precarious following the heart surgery he underwent this summer that he is still physically incapable of discharging his duties. They therefore urge Medvedev to replace him.
They also target for criticism Tkhakushinov's nephew, republican Prime Minister Murat Kumpilov, who served as acting republic head while Tkhakushinov was hospitalized. They claim Kumpilov resorted to intimidation, harassment, and blackmail to strengthen his position on the assumption he would shortly be named to succeed Tkhakushinov. (In a departure from normal practice, Kumpilov, not Tkhakushinov, headed the Adygeya list of United Russia candidates in the recent State Duma elections.)
Signatories to the letter include Iskhak Mashbash, a respected writer and chairman of Adygeya's Public Chamber; Ruslan Khadzhibiyokov, who represents Adygeya in the Federation Council; former Adygeya parliament speaker Anatoly Ivanov; Mukharby Tkharkakhov, who served from 1997 to 2001 as Adygeya's prime minister; and former Teuchezh district head Rashid Mugu. Khadzhibiyokov and Tkharkakhov were among six alternative candidates to Tkhakushinov in 2006. That Ivanov, a Russian, should have signed along with the Circassians is worthy of note: the Circassians resisted for months Tkhakushinov's efforts in 2007-08 to have Ivanov named parliament speaker.
In addition to that collective appeal, Mashbash sent a separate letter to Medvedev accusing Tkhakushinov of indifference to the social needs of the population; encouraging a cult of his own personality; and selecting candidates for government posts on the basis of kinship and regional ties rather than professional competence. Mashbash claims that as a result, Tkhakushinov has forfeited the trust and respect of the republic's population.
Predictably, Tkhakushinov's press spokesman Ilyas Bedanokov downplayed the criticisms of his boss and dismissed outright as "totally absurd" the allegation that Tkhakushinov's failing health makes it impossible for him to remain in office. He claimed the republic's current leadership enjoyed overwhelming popular support.
In the absence of reliable opinion polls, it is impossible to gauge the true extent of popular antipathy to Tkhakushinov, although the vote in the republic's parliament to endorse his nomination will indicate the state of his relations with the new legislature elected in March. That vote is scheduled for December 12.
But "Rossiiskaya gazeta" predicts that even if some of the 40 members of the United Russia faction in the republic's parliament vote against Tkhakushinov, he is still likely to garner the minimum 50 percent of the total 56 votes needed to secure a further term.