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Parliament and President Clash in Karachai-Cherkessia

Row over timing of next presidential election is latest in series of skirmishes between executive and legislature.
By Fatima Chekunova

President and parliament are on a collision course in the Russian North Caucasian republic of Karachai-Cherkessia after the regional assembly tried to bring forward the date of presidential elections.


The president and his administration have spent much of April in court, challenging parliament's decision to set elections for June 15, saying that President Vladimir Semyonov's term of office expires only in October. Both sides have won powerful backers for their case, which has split Karachai-Cherkessia down the middle.


So far, four court hearings in the republic's Supreme Court have failed to yield a resolution to the dispute. Zukhra Karayeva, press secretary to the court, explained that determining the legally correct date for the elections is a difficult issue, which is regulated by a series of local and federal laws and documents. The court is continuing to discuss the case.


The parliamentarians justified their claim last month by saying that since the second round of voting in Karachai-Cherkessia's presidential election ended on May 16 1999, Semyonov's four-year term ends on May 15 this year and a new vote must be held a month later, according to the local constitution.


The presidential administration dismissed the parliamentary election date decision. At a specially convened meeting of the republic's security council, President Semyonov said, "Parliament has to recognise its mistake and fix a new date for the elections in a new resolution."


In response, parliament on March 28 approved a four-page document, entitled Appeal to all the voters of Karachai-Cherkessia, which insisted that the earlier decision was legally correct and would not be revoked.


The president then turned to the courts. He referred to a number of documents, including one by the republic's supreme court, which pronounced the election legal on August 27, a decision, which took effect only on October 22. He therefore dates the start of his term in office as October 1999.


Semyonov, a former general who is ethnically half Karachai and half Russian, took office after a stormy election in one of Russia's most turbulent and ethnically diverse regions. Supporters of losing candidate Stanislav Derev did not recognise the results of the second round and President Boris Yeltsin installed a temporary acting head of the republic from Moscow until Semyonov was confirmed as the victor.


This is not enough to sway the majority of the 71-member parliament. "Maybe it's unfair to President Semyonov to use the May 16 date, but that's the law," said deputy Murat Khatukayev. "It is simply one of those legal clashes which we see happening quite often."


Semyonov has the backing of a small group of deputies, the local prosecutor's office and the local electoral commission, all of whom say that the earlier date would deprive the president of four months of his elected term of office.


But the parliamentarians have a powerful backer in the head of Russia's central electoral commission, Alexander Veshnyakov. "According to the constitution of Karachai-Cherkessia the president's term of office expires in May 2003, it dates from the moment of his election and not his taking up office," Veshnyakov said.


The latest clash between president and parliament follows a series of political skirmishes in which both parties sought to extend their term of office. Relations between executive and legislature, both of whom were elected at the same time, have soured considerably in the last four years.


First of all, the deputies tried to postpone their elections from December 2003 to March 2004, a move which Semyonov vetoed. Then, 29 pro-Semyonov deputies also tried to put off the presidential poll to March 2004, but the resolution was voted down.


The local budget has been a battlefield. Karachai-Cherkessia's deputies have demanded an audit of local budget spending in the republic for three years in succession, but without success. Last winter, they held up adopting the 2004 budget in protest.


The latest row leaves the republic in the strange situation of having a presidential campaign getting underway without an official starting date. No opposition candidate has yet firmly declared his candidacy, although the name of the head of the central bank, Mustafa Badtyev, a Karachai, is widely mentioned.


The latest political tension raises anxieties about a resurgence of the violence which has scarred the last four years in the republic. During this time, three prominent public figures have been murdered: the leader of the opposition movement Vozrozhdenie (or Revival) Keram Semyonov, two parliamentary deputies, Aznaur Suyunchev and Arasul Atabiev, and Alim Sarov, aide to local Duma deputy Magomet Tekeyev.


Fatima Chekunova is deputy editor of Vozrozhdenie Respubliki newspaper in Cherkessk.