Chechen Election Offers Little Hope for Stability

Exclusion of advocates of separatism from assembly ballot underlines Chechnya’s democratic deficit.

Chechen Election Offers Little Hope for Stability

Exclusion of advocates of separatism from assembly ballot underlines Chechnya’s democratic deficit.

Friday, 25 November, 2005
The ban on candidates advocating Chechen independence in the November 27 parliamentary elections will mean the assembly will be powerless to bring peace and stability to Chechnya, analysts believe.

Only independent candidates and representatives of political parties who accept that Chechnya is part of Russia have been registered to contest the poll - the third such ballot since the early Nineties - with the pro-Kremlin United Russia party expected to come out on top, underlining Moscow’s grip on the territory.

Despite widespread scepticism over the value and validity of the poll, candidates seem genuinely to believe that the electoral process has been fair and that the new assembly will improve the quality of life for ordinary Chechens.

“The work of the parliament will be the means of bringing constitutional order to Chechnya,” said Akhmad Atsaev of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia.

The authorities have sought to give the election a democratic gloss by registering political parties from across the political spectrum - ranging from liberals such as the Union of Right Forces, SPS, to nationalists like Rodina and the Liberal Democrats, and the Communists on the left - whose 350 or so candidates are competing for 58 seats in the republic’s two-chamber parliament.

Some commentators have speculated that the stab at political plurality is intended to calm western nerves over Chechnya’s democratic development. “This parliament is being thrown together to show the rest of the world that democratic values matter to us, and that the international community has nothing to worry about,” said analyst Murad Nashkhoev.

United Russia - with its 49 candidates, the largest of any party, enjoying the support of Russian president Vladimir Putin and other influential Moscow political figures – is the favourite to form the next government. “It is no exaggeration to say that ours is a powerful party, with at least 27,000 local members,” said senior United Russia official and parliamentary deputy Ruslan Yamadayev. “We have branches in every village. I think we’re going to win.”

Although none of the candidates advocates independence, some previously held high positions in the separatist administration of the assassinated Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov - but later renounced him and pledged allegiance to Moscow.

One such candidate, representing the SPS in the ballot, is Maskhadov’s former defence minister, Magomed Khanbiev, whose brother Umar, now living in France, still holds the post of health minister in Maskhadov’s government-in-exile.

Officials have sought to portray Magomed Khanbiev’s candidacy as evidence of the ballot’s democratic credentials. “This shows that the electoral committee gives everyone equal opportunity. Any eligible individual is welcome to register and become a candidate,” said Ismail Baikhanov, who chairs the committee.

Indeed, Khanbiev, who is number two on the SPS list, is virtually guaranteed a seat in parliament, as he has received the backing of the republic’s most influential politician, Ramzan Kadyrov - the son of the late president Akhmad Kadyrov - who is in charge of the police and the military. t the end of October, the security supremo told a law enforcement gathering in Gudermes, “Magomed [Khanbiev] is my only candidate.”

With such friends and patrons, few Chechens have any time for him. His election posters are torn down almost as soon as they are put up.

“People like Khanbiev are political conformists,” said commentator Edilbek Khasmagomadov. “They will go with the flow, serving whoever happens to be in power at the time.”

A number of analysts say that the absence of genuine pro-independence candidates will mean the assembly will have little hope of bringing peace and stability to the republic.

“Without the so-called separatists, the future parliament will not accurately reflect the political spectrum that exists in our society,” said commentator Edilbek Khasmagomadov.

“It would be better for everyone if the separatists were allowed to act legally, by peaceful means. Instead they drive them into the mountains, where they arm themselves and get angrier.”

Some candidates, however, back the authorities’ ban on those lobbying for independence. “What good did they do when they were in control? Those people should think twice before trying to rule us again,” said Russian army colonel Khavazhi Askhabov, who is running as an independent.

The effectiveness and legitimacy of the assembly will not only be hamstrung by the exclusion of separatists, but also by the fact that the Chechen constitution has been conceived in such a way that parliament is merely an adjunct to the executive, say observers.

“First we held a constitutional referendum and elected the president, and now we are electing the parliament, which should have been there to begin with, to lay down the legislative groundwork,” said Khasmagomadov.

“We need a parliament that will not be fully subservient to the executive government. United Russia is sure to win, but when I say this, what I mean is that the real winner is our government bureaucracy and the clans that stand behind that party.”

The international community seems to have taken a similarly dim view of the ballot. The European Union has declined to send observers, because it says it has yet to define its precise position on Russian policy towards Chechnya. “The Council of Europe will send a small team to gather information, but not to observe the elections,” said a statement issued by the EU’s office in Moscow.

Unsurprisingly, most Chechens are highly sceptical about the poll, given that previous elections have failed to deliver order and stability. “I don’t expect much from things like elections and referenda,” said Abubakar Sambiyev, a 41-year-old computer programmer from Grozny. “They told us - have a referendum and the war will be over. But no referendum can end a war. Those people couldn’t care less about us – they are just pursuing their own ends.”

For some Chechens, though, any attempt to establish a semblance of democracy is a good thing. “It’s better to have some sort of parliament than none at all,” said Tamara, 46, a Grozny resident.

Timur Aliev is IWPR coordinator in Chechnya.
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