On September 24, besides the sensational-albeit-expected news that Vladimir Putin will return to the Russian presidency in 2012, the United Russia party’s conference unveiled its list of candidates for the next parliamentary elections. Out of 601 people on the list, 44 candidates to the Russian parliament’s lower house, the State Duma, come from the North Caucasus. The Duma elections are scheduled to take place on December 4, 2011 (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, September 27). According to preliminary results from the 2010 census, the seven ethnic republics of the North Caucasus make up five percent of the total population of Russia (about 7.2 million people), while they make up over 7 percent of the United Russia party electoral list.
The rate of representation on the United Russia party electoral list has been a good measure of being in favor with the political regime in Moscow. So a higher percentage rate of North Caucasians on the United Russia party list is probably a weak attempt by Moscow to further co-opt the North Caucasian elites. United Russia comprises a constitutional majority in the current Russian State Duma, which allows it to change virtually any law unopposed. Many observers regard the Russian parliament as an institution completely subservient to the executive branch, but membership in it still yields certain material benefits as well as personal prestige and security for the individual members.
It is noteworthy that of the 44 candidates from the North Caucasus, there are only three ethnic Russians, one each from the three republics – Adygea, Karachaevo-Cherkessia and Kabardino-Balkaria. These republics in the western part of the North Caucasus have sizeable Russian populations, and in Adygea ethnic Russians even comprise a majority. Still, ethnic Russians also live in all the other North Caucasian republics, especially North Ossetia and Dagestan, yet they did not get onto the ruling party’s list. This indicates one of the limits of Moscow’s ability to exert power over the indigenous North Caucasian bureaucracies, since the federal authorities become dependent on the local officials to deliver the “right” electoral results. In Russian-speaking Stavropol Krai, the reverse is true: only ethnic Russians represent this territory on the United Russia party list, even though Stavropol Krai has a sizeable non-Russian population (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, September 27).
The United Russia party lists in the North Caucasus are led by the heads of the republics, which is often the case in other regions of the Russian Federation as well. This does not mean they are actually elected, but rather are supposed to garner support for the party. The Stavropol Krai party list, unlike the North Caucasian republics’ lists, is headed by Igor Sechin, one of the most powerful figures in Putin’s entourage (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, September 27). This may mean either that United Russia’s positions are especially vulnerable in this territory or its current governor is deemed to be extremely unpopular.
The previous Russian parliamentary elections in 2007 were largely rigged, especially in the North Caucasus. Voter turnout in Chechnya and other republics was close to 100 percent and the overwhelming majority of those unlikely voters supported United Russia. However, some observers argue that the situation this year may be very different. On September 24, besides becoming a candidate in the 2012 presidential elections, Vladimir Putin handed over his leadership position in United Russia to incumbent President Dmitry Medvedev. Observers argue that the plummeting ratings of the ruling party prompted Putin to distance himself from it. Conveniently for Putin, the “lame duck” Medvedev will lead the party into the December 2011 elections. The question, however, is how well United Russia will be able to perform with such a leader, especially given its evidently declining appeal (http://gazeta.ru/politics/elections2011/blogs/3781490.shtml). The Russian independent research polling organization, the Levada center, found that in August 2011, only 40 percent of Russians had a degree of interest in the upcoming parliamentary elections (http://www.levada.ru/press/2011091301.html).
Apart from Ramzan Kadyrov, who heads the Chechen list of United Russia candidates for the parliamentary elections, Adam Delimkhanov, a current member of the Russian parliament, is also on the list. Delimkhanov was accused of carrying out murders of Kadyrov’s enemies in Chechnya and beyond on several occasions. Fourteen people from Dagestan are included on the party electoral list. The head of the republic, Magomedsalam Magomedov, heads the United Russia list in Dagestan, while others on the list include former candidates for the Dagestani presidency and local officials (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, September 27).
Meanwhile, the contrast between an unrealistically high voter turnout and exorbitant results for United Russia in the North Caucasus, on the one hand, and relatively modest results in the ethnic Russian regions, on the other, may add to Russian nationalist resentment of North Caucasians. The difference was visible in the 2007 Duma elections, and there is a chance the contrast in 2011 will be even more striking. In this way, Russian democrats might join the Russian nationalists in recognizing that the North Caucasus and the way it is used by Moscow are hampering Russia’s democratic evolution. A shift already can be detected in the rhetoric of some popular public democratic figures, such as Alexei Navalny.
Russian nationalists behind the public campaign “Stop Feeding the Caucasus” plan to hold a press conference in Moscow on September 28. Nationalists have vowed to hold protest actions in Russian cities on October 1, under the slogan Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Ethnic Crime. The protesters plan to demand the imposition of a visa regime with the CIS countries (www.apn.ru, September 26-27). Even though the North Caucasus is politically part of the Russian Federation, the protest rally is inevitably going to focus on that region as well.
The sliding ratings of United Russia, the rise of Russian nationalism and the current outdated model of governance in the North Caucasus may increase the likelihood of conflicts and public protest actions in Russia.