Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 209

The election scandal in the Republic of Sakha, the diamond-mining region popularly known as Yakutia, remained unresolved last week, as opponents of the republic’s incumbent president, Mikhail Nikolaev, continued to try and thwart his bid to run for a third term. His opponents in Moscow, apparently losing hope that Nikolaev’s re-election bid could be thwarted by a legal challenge in the courts, have seemingly switched to other methods to convince him to withdraw from the race, with the Audit Chamber, the state body that monitors federal funds, linking the Yakutian president to financial irregularities.

It should be recalled that Yakutia’s election commission, in registering Nikolaev as a candidate for the republic’s presidential election, which is scheduled for December 23, ignored the republic’s constitution, which limits a president to two terms. Russia’s Supreme Court asked Yakutia’s parliament to overturn the term limit, but the parliament ignored the request, after which Yakutia’s Supreme Court refused to rule on the issue, instead asking the federal Constitutional Court to do so. The Constitutional Court’s ruling, however, will only come after Yakutia’s election is held, meaning that Nikolaev will likely already have been re-elected before such a ruling is made (see the Monitor, November 6, October 16 and 28).

Coincidentally or not, the Audit Chamber announced at the end of last week that Almazy Rossii–Sakha (ALROSA), Yakutia’s 37-percent state-owned diamond concern, had violated the country’s tax and export-control laws by failing to pay the state 5 billion rubles (around US$170 million) it owed in 1999-2000. Nikolaev was informed about the results of this probe back in July but his response, which came in September, included no information “on measures taken by organs of executive power to ensure that federal law is observed in the republic,” the Audit Chamber said. The Chamber said it would inform Konstantin Pulikovsky, President Vladimir Putin’s authorized representative in the Far Eastern federal district, about the situation surrounding ALROSA (RIA Novosti, November 9).

Thus Nikolaev would appear to be faced with the choice of continuing his battle to run for a third term and thereby finding himself in the middle of a diamond scandal or avoiding the scandal by dropping out of the race.