Republic of North Ossetia-Alania head Taimuraz Mamsurov has rejected as untrue a flurry of media speculation that he is about to quit that post, even though his second term expires only in June. Meanwhile, the Russian State Duma is about to debate draft legislation that would remove the current ban on the heads of federation subjects serving more than two consecutive terms. The independent Daghestani weekly Chernovik has construed that move as necessitated by a lack of consensus within the Kremlin on what post Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov could be transferred to when his second term expires early in 2016.
The speculation about Mamsurov's future was triggered by an April 10 report in the daily Kommersant quoting unspecified sources as saying that Mamsurov will step down of his own volition and not seek a third term as republic head. Izvestia the same day reported that Mamsurov will "probably" not seek reelection.
Those reports echo Mamsurov's own categorical statement two years ago that he has decided "firmly and irrevocably" not to seek a third term. (He turns 61 on April 13.)
TASS, however, quoted Mamsurov on April 10 as denying that he will step down prematurely and adding that "it is not for me to decide who will head North Ossetia in future." Mamsurov referred to an interview he gave to Kommersant in late March in which he similarly stressed that "we live in a state where such decisions are taken by one man." At the same time, he acknowledged that the reason why he failed to deliver his annual address to the republic's parliament was that his future remains unclear.
Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to comment on the rumors of Mamsurov's imminent resignation.
Mamsurov was first named Republic of North Ossetia president in early 2005, just months after the hostage-taking in his native Beslan in which two if his four children were seriously injured. (He rejected an offer by the hostage takers to make an exception and release them.)
The republic's economy (based largely on the distilling of vodka using crystal-pure mountain springwater) registered a modest upswing during his first term that was not sustained after his reelection in 2010, even though the percentage of the annual budget subsidized by the federal government has fallen over the past three years to 53 percent, compared with 82.7 percent in neighboring Ingushetia.
With a population of just 704,000, North Ossetia suffers from high hidden unemployment, and crime and drug-addiction are on the increase.
Analysts have identified at least half a dozen possible successors to Mamsurov, including Federation Council members Oleg Khatsayev and Aleksandr Totoonov, North Ossetian Prime Minister Sergei Takoyev, businessman Taymuraz Bolloyev, Russian Deputy Science and Education Minister Marat Kambolov, and General Taymuraz Kaloyev, who heads the Federal Security Service (FSB) administration for North Ossetia.
In a direct election, however, the clear favorite would be former Olympic wrestling champion Arsen Fadzayev, a former United Russia State Duma deputy who defected in 2009 to the opposition Patriots of Russia party and currently heads its faction (the second largest with 17 members) in the republican parliament.
Opinions differ as to whether Mamsurov is legally entitled to serve third term. As noted above, federal legislation currently limits to two the number of consecutive terms a federation-subject head may serve. But according to Tamsurov's administration head, Sergei Tabolov, the corresponding republican legislation contains no legal obstacles to a third term. Mamsurov himself, however, said in January 2013 that he believes "not just as a government official, but as a patriot, that no one has the right to make use of legal loopholes" that would permit him to serve a third term.
The Kremlin's disinclination to clarify Mamsurov's prospects suggests that some senior officials may favor the idea of nominating him for a third term in order to set a precedent that can then be adduced to rationalize doing the same for Kadyrov. The key difference between the two is that whereas North Ossetia has abolished direct elections for the post of republic head, Chechnya has not, and Kadyrov himself appears determined to demonstrate his "popularity" by being reelected by a landslide (if rigged) majority.
-- Liz Fuller