Chechnya’s parliamentary elections took place on November 27. As predicted, the pro-Kremlin United Russia party swept the contest. Citing Chechnya’s election commission, Interfax reported on November 29 that with the votes of 306 of the republic’s 430 election precincts counted, United Russia won 60.38 percent of the vote, with the remaining share distributed as follows: the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) -12.25 percent; the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) -11.14 percent; the Eurasian Union – 4.54 percent; Yabloko – 3.5 percent; Rodina (Motherland) – 2.65 percent; the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) -1.74 percent; and the People’s Will party – 1.25 percent. According to the election commission, turnout was 68.63 percent.
Some observers, however, have raised doubts about the turnout figure. “According to the observations of our staff who monitored the situation at the polling stations in Grozny, there was no ‘high activity’ of citizens during the day of voting,” the Prague Watchdog website on November 30 quoted an unnamed representative of the Memorial human rights center as saying. “At practically all the polling stations the turnout during the first half of the day, which is the time when most citizens usually go to cast their vote, was only 5-10 percent. In the villages these numbers might be higher, say 20-25 percent, because the candidates who were standing there were supported by neighbors, relatives and friends.”
The Memorial representative also claimed that the names of many of the future Chechen parliamentary deputies were known “a minimum of 24 hours in advance” of the election. “Thus, for example, as early as November 26 we received information that in constituency No. 7 of Kurchaloi district, where Ayshat Israpilova and Salman Zakriev were standing as candidates for election to the Republic’s Council (the upper house), Zakriev ‘would get in,’ since he is Ramzan Kadyrov’s brother-in-law,” he said. “In the adjacent constituency of the same district, where three candidates were standing for election—Arbi Esembaev, Adam Khamidov and Aslanbek Aydamirov—the person supposed to be elected was Aydamirov, who is the brother of Kadyrov’s wife. That is precisely what happened. Already on the evening of November 28 it became known that these two candidates [Zakriev and Aydamirov] had been ‘elected’ as deputies.”
Notwithstanding such accounts, the European Commission tried to look on the bright side, expressing hope that the lack of violence during the vote would signal a return to peace talks. “We welcome the fact that the elections took place without violence and we hope it will be a step toward a peaceful political process in the future,’ Agence France-Presse quoted Emma Udwin, spokeswoman on external affairs at the EU’s executive body, as saying on November 28. “That’s what we want to see.” She added, however, that there hadn’t been much information “on the way this election was conducted,” noting that neither the EU nor the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) had sent monitors to the election. In a similar vein, Reuters quoted the European Union as saying in a statement released on November 29: “The presidency of the European Union considers these parliamentary elections…an important step toward broader representation of a range of views in Chechen society.” According to the news agency, the EU urged Moscow to investigate any reports of irregularities or intimidation, noting that some Russian officials had said the polls were “not perfect.”
For his part, Chechen President Alu Alkhanov insisted that the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), which also did not dispatch election observers but did send a fact-finding mission, had not voiced any major criticisms, Itar-Tass reported on November 28. “The European legislators confirmed that the election in Chechnya was normal and calm, and this comment of theirs is very significant to us,” Alkhanov said. Itar-Tass went on to report: “Swiss representative Andreas Gross has told the media that the mission of European parliamentarians in Chechnya was a success. They have been able to talk to ordinary people on the streets and visit polling stations to get an accurate, first-hand impression of the situation in Chechnya. Gross said there had been frank discussions with Alu Alkhanov and Ramzan Kadyrov. He voiced satisfaction with the talks.”
Yet, in an interview with Nezavisimaya gazeta published on November 30, Gross was quite critical of the Chechen parliamentary elections. “These elections definitely were not free or fair,” he told the newspaper. “However, these characteristics are attainable only in a mature democracy, and nobody should be surprised that this is not possible in a society split by war such as Chechnya in Russia, where the attempt to build democracy is very new. In order to have free elections, you must have free citizens. In order to be a free citizen, you must be free from fear for your life. We spoke with three women in Achkoi-Martan. All three took part in the elections, and all of them felt similarly – they all expressed a deep sense of fear. Moreover, a majority of the population [of Chechnya-CW] is unemployed. The absence of security can undermine any election. That is why it is so important to include opponents in the process and to take over the control of security forces that do not obey the elected government and are not under the jurisdiction of the courts. That is why it is so important to restore the economy, the village and the spirit of the people. There is money for these goals, but more than half of it is stolen by corrupt officials.”
Basic freedoms like freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of movement were not guaranteed during the election campaign, Gross said. “This factor, together with the constant fear, undermined the election campaign,” he said. He also said that the powers-that-be in Chechnya took advantage of their “administration resource” in the campaign and voting. “Those whose jobs depend on the authorities were afraid to demonstrate disagreement or open opposition,” said Gross. “We saw this during an arranged meeting with so-called independent non-governmental organizations, 50 percent of which are governmental ‘non-governmental.’ Later, many representatives of the non-governmental organizations there complained that they were told not to make any statements. They reported that they were afraid to express openly their disagreement, since members of their families and relatives had already disappeared and the uncontrolled forces who carried this out had practically never been brought to justice.”
Gross offered more specifics about whom he was referring to when he spoke of “uncontrolled” forces. “Chechnya’s big problem is that real power is in the hands of private semi-official security forces that see their legitimacy in the fact that they are fighting ‘terrorists,'” he told Nezavisimaya gazeta. “At the same time, the official authorities, who are invested with at least a certain legitimacy, are too weak to realize [their] legitimate will or the interests of the majority of normal citizens. We met with the living embodiment of real power, Ramzan Kadyrov, and expressed to him these and other critical observations. He listened to it all and answered very confidently, but not very self-critically. We discussed these observations with the much more serious and careful President Alkhanov, who is in a very difficult situation. He himself notes the peculiar traditional, ‘antiquated’ traits of Chechen society, which undermines efforts to build democracy and strengthen human rights. Ramzan uses these contradictions, while, in my view, President Alkhanov suffers from this. The Kremlin should not transfer many of its powers to Ramzan Kadyrov, because this not only discredits the fundamental interests of Russian society, but also undermines such basic values as human rights and democracy. In turn, it will suit groups of Islamic fundamentalists and terrorists like [Chechen rebel warlord Shamil] Basaev, who democrats should hand over for trial and justice.”
An even more damning assessment of the Chechen elections was offered by Tanya Lokshina, chairwoman of the Demos Center for Information and Human Rights Research. In a report posted by the Prava cheloveka v Rossii (“Human Rights in Russia”) website, hro.org, on November 29, Lokshina wrote that unlike in Chechnya’s previous elections—the March 2003 constitutional referendum and the August 2004 presidential election—there were no cases of “pressure on candidates or violence against members of election teams” registered during this parliamentary contest. “Even ‘dirty technologies’ and ‘black PR’ were not used in this case. Why? Participants in the campaign unanimously expressed the certainty that elections would be democratic and also that they planned to observe the elections at every polling station. At the same time, when asked the question during an informal conversation, ‘Does that mean there will be no falsification?’ a leader of the regional chapter of one of the democratic parties answered: ‘No, that means that the falsification will take place with the consent of all the observers.'”
“In fact, there was no need for either manipulation at the level of campaigning or coercive pressure on opponents in…the parliamentary elections,” Lokshina continued. “There wasn’t a hint of a struggle or even the slightest intrigue, and the leading figures of the SPS and Yabloko parties on the federal level said in an informal setting that they didn’t consider these elections to be real elections, and that the number of seats they would get in the future [Chechen] parliament was agreed to with the authorities in advance. For both the Kremlin and the Chechen leadership, it is important to create the illusion of a pluralistic parliament. Party campaigning was basically campaigning for the sake of appearances. The real campaigning during the preparations for the parliamentary elections was the Kadyrov clan’s demonstration of power, aimed at leaving the republic’s inhabitants with no doubt that the real power in Chechnya belongs to Ramzan Kadyrov and that the parliament will become another organ of power upholding the chosen course. It was obvious from the very beginning not only that United Russia would receive the most seats in parliament, but that the other parties were nothing more than appendages of the ruling clan.”
Aleksandr Petrov, head of the Moscow office of Human Rights Watch, told Interfax on November 27 that he doubted the parliamentary elections would restore peace in Chechnya. “We do not have sufficient grounds to expect the elections to lead to fundamental positive changes in Chechnya,” he said. “Chechnya has not become safer than it was at the beginning of the year. So far no noticeable changes have taken place from the point of view of security and improving people’s lives.” Moscow Helsinki Group head Lyudmila Alexeyeva told Interfax that leading human rights organizations chose not to send observers to Chechnya. “The Moscow Helsinki Group is not monitoring these elections because we do not have enough money to pay our observers,” she said. “But, frankly speaking, I have not tried to find the money. Judging from what we saw during the republic’s previous elections, I know that elections in Chechnya are a farce. It is pointless to monitor them.”
The American Committee for Peace in Chechnya (ACPC) strongly condemned the parliamentary elections in Chechnya and called for a return to political negotiations. “Chechnya’s parliamentary elections were a farce,” said ACPC Executive Director Glen Howard in a November 28 press release. “They were not free, they were not fair, and they will do nothing to improve human rights in Russia or resolve the humanitarian crisis in Chechnya. This vote tightens Ramzan Kadyrov’s grip on power and deprives ordinary Chechens of the right to express their political will. It is ironic that President [Vladimir] Putin had embraced parliamentary elections in Chechnya while eliminating direct elections in most other Russian republics. This so-called ‘managed democracy’ policy will only reinforce the abuses and alienation that feed the Chechen insurgency.”
President Putin said that Chechnya’s parliamentary elections “finalize the legal process for restoring constitutional order in this republic,” Reuters reported on November 28, citing Interfax. “In Chechnya, an important internal political event has taken place—election of a legitimate representative organ of power, that is parliament,” Putin told members of the government in Moscow.