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Ramazan Abdulatipov's mistakes in Daghestan seem to have finally been too much.

On September 27, one day after members of his administration had rejected rumors of his imminent resignation as unfounded, Ramazan Abdulatipov told a Moscow radio station that he had decided to step down as Republic of Daghestan head on account of his age. (He turned 71 last month.)

A medic by training, Abdulatipov is a former academic, State Duma deputy, and Russian deputy prime minister who also served from 2005-09 as Russian ambassador to Tajikistan. Russian President Vladimir Putin first named him as acting head of his native Daghestan in January 2013 following the preterm resignation of Magomedsalam Magomedov, who was subsequently offered a senior post in Moscow as a deputy presidential administration head. Abdulatipov was confirmed as republic head by Daghestan's parliament in September 2013 with 86 of a possible 90 votes.

Although Abdulatipov explained his decision to step down in terms of his age, in light of misfortunes that have dogged his tenure it might be that Putin simply lost patience with him.

What is puzzling is why Putin waited so long -- unless National Guard first deputy head Sergei Melikov, who has long been regarded as the most likely successor to Abdulatipov but has reportedly refused the post three times, has now been prevailed upon to change his mind.

Fighting The 'Ministate'

Abdulatipov initially defined his remit as republic head as transforming what he described as a feudal ministate in which powerful clans or interest groups vied with each other for control of potential sources of revenue and local administrators milked their fiefdoms for personal gain for years on end while ignoring the needs and grievances of the local population.

From the outset, those powerful interest groups appear to have systematically sought to block or sabotage any major initiative launched by Abdulatipov -- such as cracking down on the shadow economy -- that they perceived as a direct threat. It was reportedly the influence they wield that Melikov cited as the reason for not wanting Abdulatipov's job.

Abdulatipov argued in 2013 that as a result of that lethal combination of corruption, indifference, and personal greed, entire sectors of the economy -- specifically agriculture and industry -- had collapsed to the point that they needed rebuilding from scratch. Meanwhile, the shadow economy reportedly had expanded to account for 40-60 percent of all economic activity, while tax revenues were the lowest in Russia. In 2010, they stood at just 5.4 percent of GDP, compared with the all-Russian average of 13.4 percent.

Abdulatipov hoped to revitalize the republic's government by bringing in new people brimming with energy and new ideas but found himself constrained, partly by the unwritten law on the fair distribution of ministerial posts among the region's various ethnic groups, to rely primarily on rotating existing personnel. Consequently, although he has replaced most local administration heads, in most cases economic performance has not improved and corruption levels have not fallen.

'Catastrophic' Situation

Scarcely a week goes by without a new case of embezzlement surfacing. But the Russian-language publication Novoye Delo reported last week that of 83 corruption trials so far this year, only two ended with the accused being sentenced to a prison term.

As for the republic's economy, the independent daily Chernovik regularly highlights the discrepancy between actual economic data and the glowing progress vaunted by Abdulatipov and members of the republic's government. In February 2017, a session in Moscow of the NGO Caucasus Civil Forum adopted a resolution declaring that "the social, economic, and political situation in Daghestan is close to catastrophic...[and] the people are getting poorer and the bosses richer," and appealing to Putin to fire the republic's entire leadership and bring back direct elections for the post of republic head.

Corruption was said to be a major contributing factor to one of the most serious political scandals of Abdulatipov's tenure as republic head -- the government's failure, despite repeated injunctions from Moscow and massive subsidies, to complete on schedule the restoration of the southern town of Derbent to mark the 2,000th anniversary of its foundation.

Arguably even more serious from Moscow's point of view was the Daghestani leadership's purportedly heavy-handed efforts to influence the outcome of the September 2016 elections to the Russian State Duma and the new Daghestani parliament.

A new political party, The People Against Corruption, was said to have been pressured into withdrawing its candidates, and an audio clip was posted online in which a speaker tentatively identified as first deputy presidential-administration head Aleksei Gasanov (others present addressed him as Aleksei Petrovich) impressed on local mayors the need to do everything in their power to ensure that the opposition party Rodina's candidates did likewise.

The actual vote was reportedly marred by egregious procedural violations such as ballot stuffing and the theft of ballot boxes, apparently resulting in a far higher proportion of the vote being cast for the ruling United Russia party than in most of the other 855 federation subjects. Dispatched by Putin in January to evaluate numerous complaints of blatant malpractice, Russian Central Election Commission Chairwoman Ella Pamfilova was quoted as asking Abdulatipov to his face, "Does the president really need some obsequious fool to inflate [Unified Russia's] percentage [of the vote] for him?"

No Successes Here

Despite his extensive publications on the hot-button issue of relations between Russia's various ethnic groups, Abdulatipov has shown remarkably little sensitivity to or sympathy for the justifiable grievances expressed by some of Daghestan's smaller nationalities. His indifference to mass protests in June in the predominantly Nogai-populated northern Kizlyar district at a government directive that would have deprived many villagers of access to agricultural land so outraged the Nogais that they convened a pan-national congress and adopted a formal appeal to Putin to intervene.

Critics say Abdulatipov has shown himself equally indifferent to pressing social issues, including the nationwide campaign to resettle families living in derelict housing in line with a directive Putin issued personally. Visiting Daghestan in late May, presidential envoy to the North Caucasus Federal District Oleg Belaventsev warned Abdulatipov that he would be held personally responsible if the deadline for completion of that resettlement was not met.

Citing lack of budget funds, the Daghestani leadership was constrained in August to beg Moscow to extend from September 1 to October 16 the date for completion of resettling 502 households in Derbent.

Finally, Abdulatipov cannot even take personal credit for what might be the lone positive trend in Daghestan over the past four years: the demise of the North Caucasus insurgency. Fatalities in clashes between the insurgency and the law enforcement bodies have fallen from 341 in 2013 to 127 in 2016. That decline might well be primarily due to the exodus, starting in late 2013, of many fighters to Syria, and partly also to the killing in 2015 of the last two identified commanders of the virtual North Caucasus Emirate, Aliaskhab Kebekov and Magomed Suleymanov, both Avars from Daghestan.

The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL
Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili (left) boycotted the drafting of amendments while parliament speaker Irakli Kobakhidze (right) chaired the commission that came up with the wording for the legislation. (file photo)

After nine months of embittered public debate, the majority Georgian Dream parliament faction adopted on September 26 in the third and final reading controversial constitutional amendments that opposition parties across the political spectrum are convinced are unfair and intended to enable Georgian Dream to remain in power indefinitely.

The vote has not, however, put a stop to the political maneuvering surrounding the amendments.

Parliament speaker Irakli Kobakhidze, the young constitutional lawyer who chaired the commission that drafted them, suggested that President Giorgi Margvelashvili veto two provisions of the draft bill, which Georgian Dream had last week signaled its readiness to tweak in line with recommendations made in June by the Council of Europe's Venice Commission of legal experts.

Margvelashvili for his part responded by convening on September 28 a meeting with representatives of the 20 opposition parties who participated in the drafting earlier this month of five provisions they insist should be incorporated into the amended basic law. Georgian Dream ignored Margvelashvili's invitation to participate in those talks.

Margvelashvili had boycotted the drafting of the amendments from the outset, apparently out of pique in light of the proposal to abolish direct presidential elections. On September 19, he and representatives of 20 opposition parties unveiled alternative provisions, several of which were clearly intended to enhance the role of the president.

'Profoundly Disappointed'

One of these proposed provisions also focused on the major point of disagreement between Georgian Dream on the one hand and Margvelashvili, the parliamentary and extraparliamentary opposition, and many NGOs on the other, namely the timing of the planned transition from the current mixed majoritarian-proportional system of parliamentary elections to a fully proportional model.

In the initial draft of the amendments, that transition was due to take effect for the parliamentary elections due in 2020. But days after the Venice Commission voiced overall approval of that draft, some Georgian Dream lawmakers elected from single-mandate constituencies came out categorically against the abolition of the mixed majoritarian-proportional system, citing the problems Moldova encountered after similarly switching to the fully proportional system.

Georgian Dream therefore tweaked the draft to postpone the transition until 2024, after which its parliament faction passed the amended draft in the first and second readings in late June. The three opposition parliament factions boycotted that vote in protest.

Venice Commission President Gianni Buquicchio professed himself "profoundly disappointed" by Georgian Dream's U-turn on what in the commission's Draft Opinion unveiled last week was described as "the most important aspect of the [constitutional] reform and the key to reaching consensus."

Georgian Dream responded to last week's "Margvelashvili + 20" initiative by announcing two minor concessions on points about which the Venice Commission had earlier expressed concern. The first was the proposed abolition of electoral blocs; the second the provision that those parliament mandates left unallocated due to votes cast for parties that failed to garner the minimum 5 percent of the vote required to qualify for parliamentary representation be given as a "bonus" to the party that polled the highest percentage.

'To The Detriment Of Pluralism'

The Venice Commission had opined in June that together, those provisions "limit the influence of the proportional system to the detriment of pluralism and the smaller parties."

On September 21, Kobakhidze announced that forming electoral blocs would be allowed, exceptionally, for the parliamentary election due in 2020, and the threshold to qualify for parliamentary representation would be lowered from 5 to 3 percent for that election.

In addition, in 2024 when the transition to the fully proportional electoral system takes place, the "bonus" provision will no longer apply; instead, the unallocated mandates will be distributed among all parties that garner the 5 percent of the vote required to qualify for parliamentary representation.

Kobakhidze later explained that these changes necessitate a new legal initiative, given that only editorial changes could be made to the existing draft between the second and final readings. He predicted that the necessary new draft legal initiative could be passed in the first and second readings by the end of the year, and in the third reading in March 2018.

If, however, Margvelashvili were to agree to Kobakhidze's suggestion that he veto the relevant articles of the draft, Georgian Dream could amend them within weeks to yield a constitution that takes into account virtually all the Venice Commission's criticisms (except for the timing of the transition to the fully proportional system).

Georgian Dream's proposed concessions failed, however, to mollify the opposition. The September 26 parliament session proved tempestuous, with several opposition lawmakers declaring that the draft changes are intended solely for Georgian Dream's benefit.

'Destructive Consequences'

Nika Melia of the former ruling United National Movement (ENM) accused Georgian Dream of seeking "to legalize a dictatorial and clan-based constitution" and then walked out in protest.

The European Georgia faction, which split from the ENM in January, also quit the parliament chamber prior to the vote, the website reported. One of its parliamentarians, Sergo Ratiani, predicted that "this constitution will have destructive consequences."

Even before the September 26 vote, opposition parties decided to form a Council of Leaders to continue their campaign to have the amended constitution branded illegal, the news portal Caucasian Knot reported on September 25.

Following the September 28 talks, ENM lawmaker Nika Rurua told InterpressNews that Margvelashvili and the 20 opposition parties would not give ground on their five demands. The opposition also asked Margvelashvili to veto the entire amended constitution, Caucasian Knot reported.

The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL.

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About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.


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