Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 69

A run-off election has been called in the republic of Ingushetia, which went to the polls Sunday (April 7) to elect a new president. The second round will pit Alikhan Amirkhanov, a State Duma deputy, against Murat Zyazikov, deputy presidential representative in the Southern federal district and a Federal Security Service (FSB) general. According to the results from 104 of the republic’s 108 electoral districts, Amirkhanov received 31.5 percent of the vote and Zyazikov received 19.4 percent. Mukharebek Aushev, head of the ADEPT association, came in third, winning 17.3 percent, and the republic’s acting president, Akhmet Malsagov, came in fourth, receiving 14 percent. A run-off is necessary because none of the candidates won 50 percent or more. Turnout for Sunday’s voting was more than 65 percent. No serious violations were registered over the course of the day. Eight candidates were on Sunday’s ballot. Twenty-three people had initially registered as candidates, but fifteen of those dropped out of the race. Sunday’s elections were called following last December’s decision by Ruslan Aushev to step down as the republic’s president prior to the expiration of his term (, April 8).

The results of Sunday’s race were unexpected. The republic’s voters rejected the incumbent Malsagov, who is loyal to the Kremlin, outright. This left Zyazikov, the candidate whom the Kremlin backed openly, in second place. But the real winner of the vote was Aushev, given that Amirkhanov is a close Aushev associate who served as the former president’s deputy prime minister and appears to have won the votes of supporters of Khamzat Gutseriev, the republic’s Interior Minister, the candidate whom Aushev openly backed but who was disqualified by Russia’s Supreme Court on April 5, less than two days before the voting.

Gutseriev’s supporters charge that he was the victim of dirty tricks. He was disqualified as the result of a complaint by two voters, who claimed, among other things, that Gutseriev had violated the law by continuing to carry out his duties as Ingushetia’s interior minister after registering as a presidential candidate. Gutseriev was disqualified despite the fact that he received a document signed by the head of the republic’s election commission, saying that he had the right, as a Category-A state official, to continue carrying out his functions as Interior Ministry head after registering as a candidate. On April 5, the Ingushetian branch of Memorial, the human rights group, accused the federal Center’s representatives in the republic of “anticonstitutional interference and direct pressure on public opinion and the republic’s voters” on the eve of the election. Memorial charged that officials and employees of the Southern federal district had employed an “antidemocratic and illegal tactical arsenal” in Ingushetia’s election.

Ruslan Aushev, who did not hide his sympathies for Gutseriev, denounced the candidate’s disqualification, declaring that such things did not happen even during the Soviet period. There were indeed, some highly questionable incidents leading up to the Supreme Court decision. Prior to that verdict, the case against Gutseriev was heard in an Ingushetian court. Just after that court heard the case and adjourned, a group of armed men entered the room where the judges were deliberating, identified themselves as employees of the Southern federal district and said they were under orders by President Vladimir Putin to take materials related to the suit against Gutseriev. It later turned out that those documents were handed over to the Supreme Court.

The ultimate target of the actions against Gutseriev was not the candidate himself, but Aushev. During his nine years as Ingushetia’s president, Aushev–criticizing the actions of the federal authorities in Chechnya and demanding that the Kremlin get involved in resolving the Ossetian-Ingushetian conflict–did not win a place in the federal authorities’ hearts. In the eyes of Moscow’s power ministers and other federal officials, Aushev’s criticism of Caucasus policy outweighed the fact that he had, during his tenure, kept his people from going to war on three different occasions. But Aushev’s authority in Ingushetia prevented the Kremlin from getting rid of him easily. It was only after he stepped down last December that the Kremlin tried to put its own man, Murat Zyazikov, an FSB major-general who was little known in the republic, in power in Ingushetia. Both the Kremlin and the Southern federal district apparently decided to use a variety of means to achieve that end. Besides the legal challenge to Gutseriev’s candidacy, for example, the heads of Russian state television carried out a “purge” of the republic’s television and radio company. Its director, Kueish Agaisiev, was transferred to Moscow to take courses to improve his professional qualifications, and Pyotr Zemtsov, a deputy Russian television head, came down from Moscow to replace him (Radio Liberty, April 6; Moscow Times, April 9).

Given that Amirkhanov came in first in the first round of voting, it is clear that Moscow’s tactics were less than successful. It remains to be seen whether it will be able to secure Zyazikov’s victory in the runoff.