Over the past two months, republic of Ingushetia head Yunus-Bek Yevkurov has set in motion a sequence of events that virtually guarantees his reelection for a second term, against the wishes of most of the republic’s population. Public figures, disparate opposition groups, and disillusioned local officials have now joined forces in a bid to avert that scenario.
Seven prominent Ingush, including a former presidential administration official, convened a so-called open congress of the Ingush people in Moscow on June 9.
Delegates adopted a resolution
calling on Yevkurov to resign voluntarily and for a referendum
among Ingushetia’s voters on whether the republic head should be elected by a direct ballot or by the parliament. The resolution will be sent to Russian President Vladimir Putin in an attempt to alert him to the multiple problems Ingushetia faces.
The Moscow congress was intended as a response and counterweight to a Congress of the Ingush People hastily convened by Yevkurov in April in the village of Nesterovskaya, allegedly in violation of relevant legislation. The Congress of the Ingush People is defined in Article 105
of the Ingushetia's constitution as a representative body that interacts with the authorities on issues that concern the spiritual and socioeconomic development.
At the congress in Nesterovskaya, a majority of the estimated 300 handpicked delegates, most of them either local or government officials or known supporters of Yevkurov, voted in favor of abolishing direct elections
for republic head and empowering the parliament to select a person for this post from a shortlist of three candidates proposed by Putin.
The seven public figures who organized the Moscow congress told a press conference
late last month that the vote by the Congress of the Ingush People was rigged, and that the 196 votes in favor were counted in just 17 seconds. Although resolutions adopted by a Congress of the Ingush People are not legally binding
, the republic’s parliament duly voted to amend the constitution to abolish direct elections for republic head.
Yevkurov, whose term expires in late October, is thus virtually assured of reelection by subservient lawmakers. In a direct ballot he would have faced fierce competition from Afghan war hero and retired General Ruslan Aushev, who served as Ingushetia’s president from 1993-2002. Aushev initially said he would not run. But after 50,672 signatures were collected in support
of his candidacy, he formally stated on April 16, just days before Yevkurov’s Congress, which he attended, that he he thought he had a moral obligation
to participate in the ballot.
A former career military intelligence officer, Yevkurov is a controversial figure. When then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev appointed him republic head in October 2008 to replace Murat Zyazikov, whose name had become a byword for corruption on a spectacular scale, the population reacted with jubilation.
Nonetheless, within two years Yevkurov managed to squander the trust and hope placed in him. He failed to bring about the long-hoped-for economic upswing and create new jobs to bring down an unemployment rate then estimated at 57 percent. In addition, according to his detractors, he turned a blind eye to -- or possibly even encouraged -- corruption, inefficiency, and mismanagement on the part of the government and of members of his own family he had promoted to influential posts.
A poll conducted
in 2010 by the opposition website ingushetia.org found that of 2,027 respondents, just 732 (36.1 percent) said they trusted Yevkurov and considered him honest, while 939 (46 percent) said he was "deceiving the people."
However, under Yevkurov’s watch, the incidence of terrorist attacks, abductions, and extrajudicial killings in Ingushetia has plummeted, not least thanks to his promise of clemency to insurgents who voluntarily surrender and lay down their arms.
At a roundtable discussion in Moscow in late May, the organizers of the open congress enumerated further instances of Yevkurov’s perceived incompetence and venality.
Congress organizing committee chairman IlesTatiyev, who chairs a North Caucasus NGO that promotes cooperation between the executive branch and civil society, questioned the rationale for Yevkurov’s decision to build the largest flour mill in the North Caucasus in Ingushetia, when the republic does not produce grain.
Daud Garakoyev, a member of the All-Ingush Civic Union, said that despite Yevkurov’s pledge on taking office to combat corruption at all levels, the situation has since deteriorated rather than improved. He cited Audit Chamber statistics
revealing the embezzlement of 350 million rubles ($10.7 million) allocated for investment in agriculture and a further 30 million rubles earmarked for youth programs, while 600 million rubles to reduce unemployment are unaccounted for.
In a subsequent interview
with the radio station city-fm.ru, Garakoyev estimated the total amount stolen over the past five years to be 20 billion rubles; Ingushetia’s annual budget is 18 billion rubles.
Another speaker at the press conference claimed that up to 40 percent
of the oil extracted in Ingushetia is stolen. The republican oil company Ingushneftegazprom is headed by Yevkurov’s brother Uvays.
Yevkurov has tasked Ingushetia’s interior minister, Federal Security Service head, and prosecutor with determining whether those allegations are true
and, if not, formally refuting them.
Invitations to the Moscow congress were sent
to republic of Ingushetia parliamentarians and the republic's representatives in the Russian State Duma and Federation Council, and to Yevkurov, Aushev, and Zyazikov, who is currently deputy presidential envoy to the Central Federal District. But none of the three showed up.
The organizers had stressed earlier in a separate statement
that they do not support any alternative presidential candidate and are not lobbying on behalf of either Aushev, Zyazikov, or Moscow-based oligarch and Russneft CEO Mikheil Gutseriyev. Gutseriyev made clear in a recent interview
that he has no interest in local Ingushetian politics and plans to devote his entire energies to his business empire.
As of June 8, more than 500 delegates had registered
to attend the congress. Only some 230 actually showed up, however, with most of them coming from Moscow or other parts of Russia or from the Commonwealth of Independent States. According to Garakoyev, many Ingush who had planned to travel from Ingushetia to Moscow were forcibly prevented
from doing so.
Others may have been deterred by Tatiyev’s arrest on June 7 by the Ingush Interior Ministry while on his way to give an interview to the radio station Ekho Moskvy. Tatiyev has been charged with obtaining, by false pretences,
a 20 million-ruble ($622,248) loan from Rosselkhozbank, and transported to Magas
The Moscow congress was a landmark event in that, as co-organizer Daud Khuchiyev pointed out, it was the first time in recent years that all Ingushetia's opposition groupings had gathered under one roof (17 organizations were represented
, including all four political parties registered in Ingushetia). Also present were members of the hard-line opposition movement Mekhk Kkhel, which for the past 18 months has taken the lead in campaigning for Yevkurov’s dismissal, bombarding first Medvedev and then Putin with denunciations and appeals.
There has been no official reaction to the congress to date from either the Russian or the Ingushetian authorities. But Assembly of Peoples of the Caucasus Chairman Ruslan Kutiyev was cautiously optimistic
. He pointed out that the congress could not have taken place without the Kremlin’s approval, which, he reasoned, implies that there is a group jockeying for position within Putin’s "power vertical" that would be glad to see the back of Yevkurov.
On the other hand if, as many analysts surmise, Yevkurov is regarded as a valuable counterweight to Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov, any efforts to undermine him are a waste of time and energy.