The Daghestan chapter of the opposition People Against Corruption Party (NPK) announced on July 21 that due to intense official pressure from the republican authorities, its prospective candidates have “regretfully” decided not to participate in the September elections for a new republican parliament.
NPK had planned to field a total of 144 candidates on that ballot. Some are respected members of the republic’s Muslim clergy, while others are retired members of the security forces.
In a brief statement posted on Facebook, unnamed party representatives explained that candidates have been subjected to pervasive administrative pressure that extended to the use of force. They did not cite specific examples.
They affirmed that the agencies that exerted such pressure could not have acted without the explicit approval of Republic of Daghestan head Ramazan Abdulatipov.
They said individual candidates were psychologically prepared to withstand that pressure, but then concluded after consultations with the party’s leadership that it would be wrong to use the huge public support they claim to enjoy as a means of counterpressure.
They further note that Abdulatipov was appointed to his current post by Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose “wise will” they undertake to abide by in the interest of avoiding conflict.
Speaking at a press conference later on July 21, NPK press secretary Robert Kurbanov quoted statements by individual parliamentary candidates who said they or their relatives had been threatened with dismissal from their jobs or even with physical violence. One implicated republican Natural Resources and Ecology Minister Nabiyulla Karachayev, another police in the northwestern Khasavyurt district.
At the same time, Kurbanov clarified that the party will still field candidates from each of Daghestan’s three electoral districts in the September 18 Russian State Duma elections.
Magomedhabib Tazhudinov, who heads NPK’s Daghestan branch, was not present at that press conference; Kurbanov was reportedly unable or unwilling to explain his absence.
The following day, the opposition party Rodina (Fatherland) similarly alleged pressure on its candidates to withdraw from the republican parliamentary ballot.
Daghestan’s Central Election Commission immediately denied that such pressure has been exerted on NPK, Rodina, or any other party. It further said it has not yet received from NPK formal written notification of its candidates’ decision not to participate in the vote.
The withdrawal of NPK is a victory for Abdulatipov, who had criticized the party’s Daghestan chapter ever since its leaders announced in April their intention to participate in the elections. Abdulatipov’s objections were twofold.
First, he categorically rejected the need for a political party that focused primarily on corruption, given that he personally had launched a campaign against it immediately after his appointment in early 2013.
“No one has a greater interest in fighting corruption than the republic head,” he declared publicly.
Second, Abdulatipov argued vehemently that the clergy should not engage in politics. Daghestan’s mufti, Akhmad-hadji Abdulayev, was more equivocal, telling a journalist that clerics enjoy the same right as any other citizen of the Russian Federation to run for election. He added, however, that in the event they are elected, they must quit their clerical post in accordance with Russian law.
Abdulatipov was particularly put out by the stated intention of Abdulayev’s first deputy, Magomedrasul Saaduyev, to run for election, and publicly warned him in mid-April against doing so.
Saaduyev initially ignored that warning.
But in early July, Daghestan’s Muslim Spiritual Board formally announced Saaduyev’s withdrawal from the NPK list of candidates. Several days later, Saaduyev confirmed that report, explaining that Abdulayev (who observers say is anxious to maintain good working relations with Abdulatipov) disapproved of his intention to run for parliament. He quoted Abdulayev as having told him clearly that he could campaign more effectively against corruption and other negative phenomenon as a religious figure.
Saaduyev further claimed that although NPK had announced that he would head the party’s list of candidates, he had not definitively committed himself to doing so. One month earlier, however, NPK had posted on its Facebook page notification that Saaduyev had collected all the requisite documents to register as a candidate and was “upbeat and confident of victory.”
The news of NPK’s withdrawal from the ballot was met with consternation and dismay among the party’s supporters, one of whom branded it “a shameful retreat from the field of battle. I did not expect that a force that has inspired and given hope to the whole of Daghestan to turn out to be so weak.”
Commentators anticipate that some of the “protest” electorate who would have cast their ballots for NPK to register their dissatisfaction with the republic’s leadership will now vote for Rodina, the Communist Party, or the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, while others will not vote at all.