Aleksandr Ivanchenko, chairman of Russia’s Central Electoral Commission, is to investigate the June 14 presidential election in Bashkortostan. (Russian agencies, June 23) On June 14, incumbent president Murtaza Rakhimov was overwhelmingly reelected with 70 percent of the vote. His only opponent–the forestry minister in Rakhimov’s own government, Rif Kazakulov–got just under 9 percent. Not one of Rakhimov’s real opponents managed to register as a candidate. All were disqualified by the republic’s Central Election Commission–some of them, twice.
The campaign saw one violation of federal election law after another. Many of the electorate clearly disapproved of the way the election was conducted. According to official figures, about 17 percent of those who cast their ballots voted against both candidates. In the capital, Ufa, that number was over 30 percent. (Nezavisimaya gazeta, June 16)
The Kremlin, however, turned a blind eye to the violations. President Boris Yeltsin, Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev and former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin all gave Rakhimov their formal endorsement. The Kremlin’s support for Rakhimov is easily explained. Rakhimov first attracted national attention during the Russian presidential election of 1996, when, judging from the official vote totals, the sympathies of the Bashkortostan voters changed radically in the course of two weeks. In the first round of that election, communist candidate Gennady Zyuganov carried Bashkortostan with a decisive margin. In the second round, however, Yeltsin beat Zyuganov badly. This ability to manage the electorate did not escape the Kremlin’s attention. The storm of media criticism provoked by irregularities in this year’s presidential election seems, nonetheless, to have persuaded the central authorities that they must at least be seen to be looking into the legality of Rakhimov’s unorthodox victory.
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