Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 198

On 24 October, incumbent President Mikhail Nikolaev of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) registered with the local election commission as a candidate in the republic’s presidential election (Russian agencies, October 24; see also the Monitor, October 16, 24). Nikolaev is determined to stand for a third term as president of the republic that is geographically Russia’s largest and home to the country’s largest diamond deposits. Yakutia’s constitution, however, does not contain a provision allowing a president to serve a third term, and the republic’s State Assembly (parliament) has ignored a ruling of Russia’s Supreme Court ordering it to amend the constitution to make this possible (see the Monitor, October 16). Instead, the parliamentarians have filed a protest with the Central Election Commission (CEC) against Nikolaev’s registration (NNS.ru, October 25).

The CEC is expected to give its ruling by October 30, though its decision can already be predicted. Immediately after Nikolaev’s registration, CEC Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov called the decision of the Yakutia election commission “not legal” and emphasized that the CEC would overturn it if there were an appeal (Radio Ekho Moskvy, NNS.ru, October 24). The CEC is not, however, the final arbiter. Its decision may be appealed in court, and it is difficult to know how a court challenge would end up, especially because the president and the parliament interpret the Supreme Court’s ruling quite differently. Veshnyakov bases his argument on the following formula: “The rules for registering candidates for president of a republic fall within the jurisdiction of the subject of the Federation [that is, the republic or region]. There is nothing here that contradicts federal legislation” (Polit.ru, October 25). According to several commentators, however, Veshnyakov is interpreting the decision of the court too freely, in as much as the decision recognized that there was a discrepancy between local legislation and the Russian constitution (Kommersant-Vlast, October 24). It is precisely on this discrepancy that Nikolaev’s supporters base their case. Vladimir Mikhailov, chairman of Sakha’s election commission, believes the decision to register Nikolaev was “legal and based on logic,” though he acknowledges that the commission would be bound to obey any decision of the court, if such a decision materialized (Polit.ru, October 25). Vitaly Basygysov, State Duma deputy from Yakutia, stressed that Nikolaev’s registration was in accordance with federal law, citing the law of the Russian Federation “On the general principles for forming state bodies in subjects of the Federation” (Radio Ekho Moskvy, October 25).

In reality, everyone’s attention is pinned not on the letter of the law but on the position of President Vladimir Putin. Many commentators assert that the Kremlin long ago wrote Nikolaev off and found his replacement–Vyacheslav Shtyrov, president of the diamond mining company Almazy Rossii-Sakha (ALROSA). Not everyone shares this view, however. It is noted that, on October 8, Larisa Brycheva, head of the Kremlin’s Main State-Legal Department, sent a letter to deputy Kremlin administration chief Aleksandr Abramov in which she explained that there was nothing to prevent Nikolaev from running for and being elected to a third term. But the letter was not highly publicized: Reportedly, it was buried by members of Putin’s apparatus who were pushing their own candidate for the presidency–Deputy Prosecutor General Vasily Kolmogorov (Novye Izvestia, October 23). If Kremlin groups are lobbying for two different candidates, it is hard to imagine that they will form a united front against Nikolaev.

Nikolaev himself is pinning his hopes on Putin. On October 25, Nikolaev visited the Kremlin and, on his return to Yakutia, reported that the president had assured him: “I’m telling you for the third time that I support you. What you are doing suits me…. That legal nuances now being raised are for the lawyers to deal with. This should not influence your candidacy.” According to Nikolaev, his meeting with Putin “closed the books on the debate” (NTV, NNS.ru, October 26). Even the support of the Russian president may not, however, be enough to secure Nikolaev’s re-election. A high-level source in the Kremlin administration let it be known that Putin’s meeting with Nikolaev “did not influence” the electoral situation in the republic. “That situation,” the source asserted, “must be resolved in accordance with Russian law. The CEC and the Supreme Court are independent bodies that reach their decisions guided exclusively by the law” (Polit.ru, Kommersant, October 26). Given that Russian realities make this assertion debatable, Sakha’s constitutional conflict threatens to stretch out for a long time. It is possible that only the election itself, set for December 23, will bring it to an end.