The presidential election campaign in the Far Eastern republic of Yakutia, Russia’s main diamond-extracting region, heated up further last week. On November 20, Russia’s Supreme Court gave Yakutia’s five days to rule on the controversial decision of the republic’s electoral commission to register the incumbent president, Mikhail Nikolaev, as a candidate in the upcoming presidential election (Russian agencies, November 20). As of November 25, there was no word that the republic’s Supreme Court had even met to consider the issue.
When it registered Nikolaev as a candidate, the republic’s election commission ignored Article 67 of Yakutia’s constitution, which forbids a president from serving more than two terms. Russia’s Supreme Court ruled that the clause violated federal law and ordered Yakutia’s parliament to amend it, but the order was ignored. Yakutia’s Supreme Court refused to get involved and appealed instead to Russia’s Constitutional Court for a ruling. As the impasse dragged on, Nikolaev looked increasingly likely to be reelected (see the Monitor, October 16, 18, November 6).
Now, however, Yakutia’s prosecutor general has lodged a personal appeal with Russia’s Supreme Court. He argues that Yakutia’s parallel body had no right to ask the Constitutional Court to intercede. It should instead have used its authority to force Nikolaev off the ballot (Polit.ru, November 20). At the same time, Nikolaev has lost the “backup man” to whom he seemed to be planning to transfer power should the election go against him. On November 14, Yakutia’s Supreme Court annulled the registrationas a presidential candidate of Vyacheslav Shtyrov, head of the Almazy Rossii-Sakha diamond concern (ALROSA), on the grounds he had been registered past the deadline (Lenta.ru, November 15). The electoral commission promptly appealed to Russia’s Supreme Court against the annulment–pointing out that three other candidates were registered the same day as Shtyrov and that their registrations had not been annulled. Shtyrov’s registration, however, has so far not been restored (Russian agencies, November 15, 20).
The whole election, of course, revolves around the issue of diamonds–specifically, the federal government’s attempt to seize control of diamond extraction, taking it from the local elite represented by Nikolaev and Shtyrov and replacing them with an ally the Kremlin feels it can trust. The Kremlin’s favorite appears to be Vasily Kolmogorov, currently Russia’s deputy prosecutor general (Kommersant, November 16). Nikolaev and his colleagues have no intention of giving way, and the leader of Yakutia’s government, Vasily Vlasov, has said so openly. According to Vlasov, the federal Property Ministry wants the federal government to acquire a controlling share in ALROSA, for the “Yakutalmaz” enterprise–jewel in ALROSA’s crown–to be declared federal property, and for the royalties that ALROSA currently pays to the republic administration to be transferred to the federal budget (Polit.ru, November 21). There was to be no place for either Shtyrov or Nikolaev in the new plan (Gazeta.ru, November 14). With Shtyrov out of the race, only Nikolaev’s stubborn refusal to leave the stage stands between the Kremlin and control over Russia’s diamond industry. So far, Nikolaev appears to command the support of the local elite. He could however be removed at any moment: Even if Yakutia’s Supreme Court decides in his favor, Russia’s Supreme Court can overturn the lower court’s decision (Polit.ru, November 23).
YELTSIN-ERA INVESTIGATOR ATTEMPTS A COMEBACK.