Suleymanov replaces Daghestan State University rector Murtazali Rabadanov, described by one blogger as "a technocrat with a mathematician's mind, and essentially a humanist." Abdulatipov had named Rabadanov to the post in June 2013 following the arrest of long-time city mayor Said Amirov.
Why Rabadanov was pressured to step down after less than 10 months in office is not immediately clear. As lawyer Rasul Kadiyev pointed out, judging by the report Rabadanov delivered last week, "he didn't do anything wrong, and even managed to achieve something."
The Caucasus Knot website quoted an unidentified source within the municipal administration as saying Abdulatipov was furious that Rabadanov had not prevented the holding of a gala concert to mark Amirov's 60th birthday last month which was attended by several thousand people. Rabadanov reportedly told Abdulatipov that there was no legal way to ban a privately organized event.
Announcing Suleymanov's appointment on April 4, Abdulatipov praised Rabadanov's role in "maintaining political stability" in the wake of Amirov's arrest, stressing that at the time there had been "no better candidate" to fulfill that role. Abdulatipov characterized Rabadanov's work as "heroic." Rabadanov himself was more modest, saying only that "I think we managed to fulfill the quite complex tasks set before us."
Rabadanov offered some insight into the magnitude and complexity of those tasks in an interview he gave the independent weekly "Chernovik" prior to his replacement, but which appeared in print only the day after. The legacy he inherited from Amirov was more than daunting. For a period of 15 years, during which the city's population had almost doubled (from 450,000 to an estimated 800,000), Amirov had approved (reportedly for massive bribes) countless private commercial construction projects, many of which blatantly violated planning and/or building regulations. At the same time, he ignored the pressing need to build additional schools and hospitals, and failed to ensure that public transport was extended to the city outskirts, or even that roads there were asphalted.
Amirov likewise did little to modernize the city's obsolescent gas and electricity networks and the water supply system. The city prosecutor recently warned that Makhachkala's drinking water is unfit for human consumption.
Rabadanov, on his own admission, focused initially on seeking to clarify what could and should be built where, but encountered resistance from entrepreneurs unwilling to accept that "you mustn't build where you mustn't build." He expressed satisfaction at having expedited the construction of three new kindergartens, but admitted his frustration at financial constraints resulting from the city's inadequate budget, and at being powerless to ensure either that garbage was collected regularly or that the streets were kept clear of snow. Both those duties have been farmed out to privately-owned companies. (Blogger Gulbariyat Gasanova claimed that the tender for clearing the snow was won by a company owned by Abdulatipov himself, which proved to have neither the equipment nor the manpower to do the job properly.)
The former and new acting mayors have little in common except their ethnicity: both are Dargins, as is Amirov. The Dargins (who account for 17 percent of the total population of 2.96 million) are the second largest of Daghestan's 14 titular ethnic groups after the Avars (29.4 percent).
Most observers attribute Abdulatipov's choice of Suleymanov as Rabadanov's successor to Suleymanov's track record as mayor of his home town Izberbash (on the Caspian coast some 55 km south-east of Makhachkala) from 1997-2007. Under Suleymanov's watch, Izberbash had the reputation of being the neatest, cleanest, best-run town in Daghestan.
Whether Suleymanov will be able to duplicate that success in a city the size of Makhachkala is questionable, however. The population of Izberbash was just 41,800 when Suleymanov stepped down as mayor in 2007, having grown from 35,000 in 1997.
One analyst characterized Suleymanov, aka "Seaman," as more than just a competent economic manager, but not an independent political actor. He has never sided overtly with a particular political faction in any of the countless turf wars of the past two decades, and is reportedly one of only very few Daghestani political figures not to rely on backing from the "power ministries." (He may never have needed to, given that he is related to several prominent and influential Dargin families, including that of Prime Minister Abdusamad Gamidov.)
Suleymanov is perceived as not being over-ambitious. Indeed, it has been suggested that his career advancement has resulted largely from the need to select a competent Dargin for a specific political post in line with the unwritten law on allocating top posts among the largest ethnic groups -- for example in 2007, when a Dargin was needed to chair the National Assembly, the president (Mukhu Aliyev) was an Avar and the prime minister (Atay Aliyev) a Kumyk.
While some bloggers have expressed confidence that Suleymanov is capable of bringing about radical and desperately needed improvements, other commentators have expressed regret at the return to academia of a mayor "with whom you could discuss existentialism, the 'Big Bang' theory and a just social order," and whose appointment had seemed to herald a more intellectual and conscientious approach to municipal politics. Isalmagomed Nabiyev, who heads Daghestan's Independent Trade Union of Entrepreneurs and Drivers, told Caucasus Knot he was amazed that such a "profoundly intelligent person" as Rabadanov should have agreed in the first place to work in a "swamp" in which relations between superior and subordinates were structured on "feudalist" lines.
Meanwhile, in a long-overdue indication that the republic's government has finally realized the urgency of the problems facing the capital, Economy and Territorial Development Minister Rayudin Yusufov announced on April 2 (the day before Suleymanov was named acting mayor) that 500 million rubles ($14 million) will be spent over the next three years on rebuilding the city's main Imam Shamil Prospect. The entire city budget for 2014 is just 5 billion rubles.
-- Liz Fuller