Election authorities in Chechnya have now scheduled the special election to fill the republic’s vacant presidency for August 29 – a week earlier than the latest date possible under the constitution which went into force last year. According to RIA Novosti, the decision was confirmed by Chechnya’s election commission on May 21.
Vladimir Mukhin and Andrei Riskin predicted in Nezavisimaya Gazeta on May 21 that the upcoming Chechen election “will be even more rigged and more predictable than the last one.” Everyone continues to take it for granted that the election’s outcome will be decided long in advance, by the usual court maneuvers at the highest levels of the Putin administration. Zoya Svetova reported in Russky Kurier on May 25 that the key decision-maker within the Kremlin will be deputy chief of the presidential staff Vladislav Surkov, repeating the role he played for the Kremlin in Chechnya’s October 2003 presidential election.
On May 20, Ramzan Kadyrov stated even more strongly than before that he has decided not to run for president. As quoted by the Interfax news agency, he cited the minimum age required by the pro-Moscow administration’s new constitution and declared: “If we give way to temptation and break the constitution even once, it will become systematic and the fundamental law will turn into a meaningless document.”
Ramzan also commented on media reports that he was backing the presidential candidacy of the pro-Moscow administration’s interior minister Alu Alkhanov. “These rumors are being spread to split the team of the late Kadyrov,” he said, “but I would like to note that Alkhanov is an experienced general, who is backed by thousands of people who are daily risking their lives in the antiterrorist fight….It is premature to speak about candidates before the election campaign is officially launched.” The Gazeta.ru website opined on May 24 that Alkhanov has too little political experience and is regarded by the Kremlin as a dark horse.
Potentially, the field of possible candidates for Chechnya’s president is quite large. To register as a candidate in such a special election requires that a politician do only one of the following: first, collect signatures from one percent of registered voters, which means fewer than 6,000 people; or second, pay a fee of 4.5 million rubles (about US$150,000); or third, win the formal endorsement of a party which is represented in the State Duma.
Even former separatist diplomat Salambek Maigov refused to rule out the possibility of running for president himself in a May 18 interview with Ekho Moskvy radio. In an indirect slap at Ramzan, he said: “I think we have no monarchy in Chechnya or in Russia as a whole. We live in a democratic society.”
At least in the short run, the path of least resistance might be for the Kremlin to pick a figurehead president who can present a civilized face to the outside world while most of the real power is concentrated in the hands of Ramzan Kadyrov. As suggested in an analysis by Aleksei Makarkin, deputy general director of Moscow’s Center for Political Technology, published on the Politcom.ru website on May 17, one such candidate might be Taus Dzhabrailov, who has been an ally of the Kadyrov family since 1996. It was Dzhabrailov who led the successful maneuvers to place Chechnya’s official media fully under Akhmad Kadyrov’s control, and who then served as head of the elder Kadyrov’s election campaign in last year’s rigged presidential race.
Nevertheless, Makarkin suggested that even this scenario would involve a “fundamental contradiction…the potential for conflict between the legally elected president and the military leader.” The only possible arbiter between the two would be Putin, “who would hardly be able to penetrate the subtleties of inter-clan and possibly even intra-clan conflicts.”
But no matter who becomes the pro-Moscow administration’s next president, he will “in any case,” as Gazeta.ru observed, “turn out to be a weaker figure than the late Akhmad Kadyrov.”