Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 8 Issue: 12

The head of the Chechen Election Commission, Ismail Baikhanov, announced on March 17 that the republic would hold a referendum to amend the constitution before the end of this year. Kommersant reported on March 19 that according to its information, the changes to the constitution would include the ending of direct presidential elections and converting the existing two-chambered republic parliament into a single-chambered legislature that will be elected exclusively according to party lists. “Moreover, it is not excluded that mention of the republic’s sovereignty may be removed from the text of the constitution,” the newspaper wrote.

Baikhanov’s comments followed those from Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov on the same subject several days earlier. According to Interfax, on March 15, Abdulkadyr Israilov, head of the Chechen presidential and governmental apparatus, quoted Kadyrov as saying that “the constitution of the Chechen Republic must be brought into complete conformity with federal legislation,” that “the Chechen Republic is part of Russia, and there must be no contradictions in our laws,” and that “holding a referendum will make it possible once and for all to avoid the likelihood of attacks on the constitution of the Chechen Republic by those who could say that in a document approved by all the people [in the March 2003 referendum], amendments were introduced by other means.” Kadyrov said that when the constitution was approved by referendum in 2003, “the people of the Chechen republic showed that they are part of the Russian people and that the Chechen republic is a Russian subject. Now, when all of the branches of power have been formed and when the Chechen republic’s political system has been consolidated [and] the counter-terrorist operation has been completed, it is necessary to analyze the articles of the constitution in a peaceful atmosphere and, if they contain anything that contradicts Russia’s basic law, they must be removed.”

Kadyrov did not say anything about the issue of sovereignty and its mention in the Chechen constitution. Article 1 of the Chechen constitution states: “The sovereignty of the Chechen Republic is expressed in the possession of the full authority (legislative, executive and judicial) outside of the jurisdiction of the Russian Federation and outside the authority over objects of shared jurisdiction between the Russian Federation and the Chechen Republic, and is to be an inalienable part of the Chechen Republic.” However, Kommersant on March 19 quoted Chechen People’s Assembly Dukvakha Abdurakhmanov as stating in regard to the removal of sovereignty from the constitution: “So far such a decision has not been made. But I don’t rule it out: after all, the wording about sovereignty has no practical substance, and excluding the term will be completely painless.”