Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 15

Voters in the North Caucasus republic of North Ossetia-Alaniya are to elect their president on January 27. The campaign has already been disrupted by a series of violent incidents. On January 16, the republic’s Supreme Court revoked the candidacy of one of the two leading candidates, Sergei Khetagurov, accusing him of making a false declaration concerning his income and property. Khetagurov, who led North Ossetia’s government from 1988 to 1994 and now heads a metal recycling plant in the republic, was also faulted for being in possession of two passports, one saying he lived in North Ossetia’s capital, Vladikavkaz, the other saying he lived in Moscow (NNS.ru, January 17).

Khetagurov’s supporters gathered outside the courtroom while the hearing was going on, shouting insults at the judges and threatening violence if the proceedings against their hero were not dropped (ORT, January 16-17). More demonstrations took place after the court handed down its ruling, with protesters insisting that the evidence against Khetagurov was rigged and demanding that the ruling be reversed (NNS.ru, January 17). Alarmed, the local authorities slapped the center of Vladikavkaz under police protection (Regions.ru, January 17).

The authorities had reason to be alarmed. Until now, North Ossetia has been seen as one of the most stable regions of the North Caucasus. Much of the credit for this has been attributed to the incumbent president, Aleksandr Dzasokhov, who is running for reelection. Considering that the main transport routes in the Caucasus pass through the republic, and that its Mozdok district is the main base for Russian troops fighting in Chechnya, maintaining calm and stability is a key concern not just for the regional authorities but also for the federal authorities. However, the election campaign has seen a number of so far unsolved attempts to destabilize the situation. On January 7 the antenna of a local independent television company was blown up (Lenta.ru, January 7). Representatives of the TV company, which was backing Dzasokhov’s re-election campaign, said they believed the blast was carried out by professionals, given that the perpetrators also tried to render other equipment inoperable so as so ensure that the station would have to go off the air completely (Polit.ru, January 9). Last week, Vladikavkaz saw two further terrorist acts–a hostage-taking in a local medical clinic and an explosion in a city market. The office of the Vladikavkaz mayor received numerous reports about damage done to city communications equipment, blockages of heating pipes, electricity outages and other events that seemed to be the result of something other than simple hooliganism (Rossiiskaya Gazeta, January 16).

No one has openly connected these acts with Khetagurov’s team, but suspicion is running high. Khetagurov was the only real rival to Dzasokhov. Even though seven other candidates are running for president, the campaign turned into a one-horse race as soon as Khetagurov was disqualified (Kommersant, January 17). Khetagurov’s supporters are known to have broken up a session of the republic’s Central Election Commission on January 11, which was to have discussed Khetagurov’s disqualfication. Aleksandr Veshnyakov, head of the Russian Central Election Commission, alleged that members of the republic commission stayed away from the meeting because they and members of their family had been threatened by Khetagurov supporters (ORT, Rossiiskaya Gazeta, January 16).

Now, Veshnyakov says, the issue must be resolved by legal means. While acknowledging that North Ossetia’s Supreme Court had acted within its rights, Veshnyakov said that Khetagurov had the right to appeal to the Russian Supreme Court, which should, in view of the importance of the issue, take it up prior to election day. Veshnyakov appealed to Khetagurov and his supporters to desist from illegal measures which, he said, had already been seen on the streets of Vladikavkaz (Polit.ru, January 18). Veshnyakov’s words were heeded by the would-be candidate, who called on his supporters to end their street demonstrations and disperse. So far, it seems, Khetagurov has been able to control the situation (TV-6, January 18). As yet, however, there is no word as to whether he has filed an appeal with Russia’s Supreme Court against the North Ossetian Supreme Court’s ruling that he must withdraw from the race.

Meanwhile, Dzasokhov’s chances of winning reelection look promising. Opinion surveys show 44.6 percent of voters supporting Dzasokhov, while only half as many are backing Khetagurov (Kommersant, January 17). Given the authorities’ interest in maintaining stability in this sensitive area, the Kremlin seems likely to render Dzasokhov whatever assistance he needs (Rossiiskaya Gazeta, January 16). The resort to terrorism in the election campaign has only strengthened the position of the incumbent North Ossetian president.