END-GAME IN YAKUTIA.
Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 10
Three Russian republics–Adygeya, Kabardino-Balkaria and Sakha (Yakutia)–held presidential elections on January 13. Winner in the North Caucasus Republic of Adygeya was Khazret Sovmen, head of the Polyus Gold Mining Cooperative, with 68.8 percent of the votes. The leader of the Union of Slavs of Adygeya, Nina Konovalova, came second, with 14 percent. Incumbent President Aslan Dzharimov, who has headed the tiny republic for ten years, came in third, with only 10.2 percent. In neighboring Kabardino-Balkaria, by contrast, incumbent Valery Kokov was elected to a third term with an overwhelming 87.2 percent of the vote.
All eyes were fixed, however, on the election in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) in the Far North, Russia’s largest republic and home of Russia’s diamond wealth. There the campaign saw a dramatic duel between the Kremlin and Yakutia’s incumbent president, Mikhail Nikolaev, whom the local election commission initially registered as a candidate even though Yakutia’s constitution bans third presidential terms. Local officials resisted federal pressure to replace Nikolaev with someone more malleable–the Kremlin’s supposed favorite was Deputy Prosecutor General Vasily Kolmogorov–and a standoff ensued (see the Monitor, November 27; December 4, 2001). On the eve of the first round of voting on December 23, both sides admitted defeat. Nikolaev and Kolmogorov both withdrew from the race. Nikolaev turned out, however, to have a trick up his sleeve: Vyacheslav Shtyrov, president of the Alrosa diamond-mining company, stepped in as front-runner, winning 45.5 percent of the vote in the first round. Many observers saw Shtyrov as a stand-in for Nikolaev (Lenta.ru, January 13).
There was never much doubt that Shtyrov would win the second round as well. The only danger was that voter apathy might invalidate the vote. Yakutia is one of a minority of Russian regions where turnout must exceed 50 percent before an election is deemed valid (most regions require no more than 25 percent). Moreover, the temperature on polling day in the regional capital, Yakutsk, dipped to some 50 degrees below freezing. All sorts of incentives were accordingly brought into play. Despite protests from the Central Election Commission, those who went to the polls were given tickets in a lottery, first prize being a car, and all sorts of foodstuffs went on sale in the polling stations at bargain prices (TV-6, January 13; Ren-TV, January 14). This had the desired effect: Turnout topped 75 percent and voters who delayed going to the polling station were disgruntled to find that all the best bargains had been snapped up, and grumbled that, had they known, they would have stayed at home in the warm (TV-6, January 13). As for Shtyrov, he won a convincing 59.2 percent of the votes while his rival, financier Fedot Tumusov, scored 34.6 percent (Strana.ru, January 14). Tumusov’s complaints that there was fraudulent voting seem unlikely to be heeded. It will however take time for all the ballot papers to reach Yakutsk for the final tally, since the republic’s remotest settlements are accessible only by reindeer or a once-a-week flight (TV-6, January 14). Final results are not therefore expected before January 18. In the meantime, Shtyrov’s victory is being interpreted as a defeat for the Kremlin which now has to do business, if not with Nikolaev, then with his ally.
STRAINS IN TURKMEN-RUSSIAN RELATIONS.