North Caucasus: United Russia Has The Power

Parliamentary elections show a dramatic swing in support from communists to Putin's party.

North Caucasus: United Russia Has The Power

Parliamentary elections show a dramatic swing in support from communists to Putin's party.

Russia's parliamentary elections have brought the biggest political change to the North Caucasus for a decade, but allegations of vote-rigging and bribery remain.

President Vladimir Putin's United Russia was victorious across the Russian Federation, and it also triumphed in all seven autonomous republics of the North Caucasus.

The region, beset by poverty, unemployment and continuing conflict, used to be a Communist Party party stronghold in all areas bar Chechnya and neighbouring Ingushetia.

Yet here the Communists rarely bested their national average of 12 per cent, suggesting that they have now lost their position in the region to the pro-Kremlin movement United Russia, nicknamed the "Party of Power".

However, rumours persist that the party's success owed a great deal to election irregularities such as vote-buying and ballot box stuffing. These alleged practices was roundly condemned by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, and were widely reported across the North Caucasus.

In Adygea, the most westerly of the seven republics and formerly pro-Communist territory, United Russia came on top with more than 51 per cent of the party-list vote. A United Russia candidate, Nikolai Demchuk, won the single-mandate vote for a seat in the Duma with more than 47 per cent.

Here, as in other parts of the region, opposition candidates alleged that the victory had been bought with government support. "The full power of administrative resources was used [to ensure this result]," claimed Oleg Tsvetkov of the Moscow Helsinki Group in Adygea.

"Practically speaking, this means the end of a parliamentary system in Russia."

A similar picture emerged in Karachai-Cherkessia, with United Russia winning nearly half the vote against 13 per cent for the Communists and less than ten for the pro-business Union of Right Forces. More than 20 complaints were lodged by various parties and candidates, but the republic's Central Electoral Commission said that none were upheld.

In neighbouring Kabardino-Balkaria, United Russia won 76 per cent of the vote, according to the local electoral commission.

Observers say that the party's candidate Zaurbi Nakhushyeva was helped by the support of the republic's president, Valery Kokov, who had earlier promised to "do everything, so that there will be proper representation of United Russia at every level of power". On election day, state employees were said to have voted en masse for the party.

In North Ossetia, United Russia again swept the board in the party-list voting, garnering about half of the vote.

However, despite accusations of ballot stuffing, Ossetian voters bucked the regional trend and sent an opposition candidate - local hero Arsen Fadzayev, the double Olympic champion wrestler - to the Duma.

Representing the Union of Right Forces, or SPS, Fadzayev beat his nearest rival for a single-mandate seat by 12 per cent points. He takes one of only three seats won by the SPS in the 450-seat Duma.

Fadzayev's victory may also have an impact on internal North Ossetian politics, as he is an opponent of its President Alexander Dzasokhov.

In Ingushetia, election officials said United Russia scored 40 per cent of the vote, both in elections to the Duma and simultaneous voting for the local parliament, or People's Assembly.

Here, United Russia's victory - in a typically low turnout of 56 per cent - was less surprising, given antipathy toward the Communists since the break-up of the Soviet Union.

But although officials said that there had been no violations, the atmosphere was tense on election day. On December 10 a grenade was thrown at the door of the chairman of the republic's Central Electoral Commission.

Two days after polls closed, the electoral commission still had not given final results for voting to the local assembly. Former Ingush president Ruslan Aushev's Russian Party of Peace was claiming victory.

In war-torn Chechnya, United Russia reportedly won easily. Akhmar Zavgayev, already representing Chechnya in the upper house of the Russian parliament, won a Duma seat with 60 per cent of the vote. In party-list voting, United Russia received a huge 70 per cent.

Although initially registered as an independent candidate, Zavgayev - brother of former pro-Moscow Chechen leader Doku Zavgayev - was closely allied with Akhmed Kadyrov, the Kremlin's leader in the republic.

Again, observers alleged that the vote had been heavily rigged.

One election worker at a Grozny's polling station told IWPR that he and his colleagues had been ordered to ensure a turnout of 85 per cent. "In practice, we did this the day before the voting," said the source, asking not to be identified.

"We filled out around a thousand ballots - nearly half of the 2,100 voters in our sector - and made up the rest of the percentage needed from actual votes cast.

"We filled in every ballot for United Russia - that's what we were instructed to do from above."

In Dagestan, the most eastern and populous republic of the North Caucasus, the local administration suffered a setback when opposition figures triumphed over officially-approved candidates in two of the republic's three single-seat constituencies.

In the overall Duma vote, United Russia received 66 per cent against 18 per cent for the Communists and a surprise ten per cent for a so-far little-known party with an Islamic platform, called True Patriots of Russia.

There were widespread reports of irregularities. The headquarters of one candidate, Hajimurad Omarov, were vandalised and ransacked on two occasions and his campaign workers were beaten up.

Witnesses also described how representatives of rival candidates went through villages, allegedly offering voters ten-dollar bribes for their support.

"I personally noticed [the vote rigging] when in one of the districts just over 300 people came to vote, whereas the commission reported a turnout of more than 2,000 people voted," said Umar Javtayev, representative for the liberal Yabloko party in Dagestan.

Zagid Varisov, an analyst with the Centre for Strategic Studies and Political Technologies, spoke for many when he remarked that, "We can find ways of fighting against blatant administrative interference [such as] vote-rigging, but we haven't yet found a preventative measure against [vote-buying]."

This article was written by Oksana Glukhova in Maikop, Rashid Uzdenov in Cherkessk, Arsen Mechiyev in Nalchik, Valery Dzutsev in Vladikavkaz, Malika Bagayeva in Nazran, Timur Aliyev in Grozny and Nina Agayeva in Makhachkala.

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