Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 84

Murat Zyazikov, the Kremlin-backed candidate in Ingushetia’s presidential election, has defeated Alikhan Amirkhanov in a second-round run-off. According to Ingushetia’s election commission, Zyazikov–a Federal Security Service (FSB) general and deputy to Viktor Kazantsev, President Vladimir Putin’s representative in the Southern federal district–received 53 percent of the vote in the April 28 runoff. Amirkhanov–the candidate backed by Ruslan Aushev, who stepped down as Ingushetia’s president in December of last year–received 43 percent. The result was something of a surprise. After all, in the first round of voting, which took place on April 7, Amirkhanov received 32 percent of the vote and Zyazikov only 19 percent. There were subsequent legal attempts to remove Amirkhanov from the race for alleged vote buying. Another Aushev associate, Khamzat Gutseriev, was thrown out of the race just two days before the first round of voting (see the Monitor, April 9).

The federal election authorities have given the run-off their seal of approval. Aleksandr Veshnyakov, head of the Central Election Commission (CEC), saw nothing strange in the outcome and did not think that the voting had been rigged. Zyazikov’s success, he said, was due to a “rallying” of forces opposed to the previous Aushev government.

The victorious Zyazikov, meanwhile, said that his priority task as Ingushetia’s new president would be to resolve the problem of the displaced persons from Chechnya and North Ossetia concentrated in the republic. “This is a massive problem and needs to be solved in short order,” he declared. The federal authorities have said for two years now that returning Chechen refugees in Ingushetia is a priority task, and vowed that they would all be returned home by the end of 2001. Yet, as before, 150,000 Chechen refugees remain in Ingushetia. Zyazikov has not indicated how he plans to entice the refugees to leave Ingushetia and return to Chechnya. The authorities apparently plan simply to cut off their food supplies or possibly even deport them. Zyazikov named another of his strategic goals–to create a “vertical of power” in Ingushetia. “The federal center is the federal center, and there can be no questions of contradictions or misunderstandings here,” the FSB general said (, April 29). Aushev, of course, is known for his sharp criticism of federal policies, especially the two Chechen military campaigns (see the Monitor, April 25).

Despite the assurances from the CEC’s Veshnyakov that the run-off vote in Ingushetia was free of violations, other observers tell a different story. The newspaper Kommersant described how voters were forced to stand in line for hours and only allowed into polling stations two or three at a time. The paper quoted an aide to the republic’s prosecutor as saying that the people waiting in line were not really waiting to vote, but rather “were waiting for when they would be paid money.” Kommersant’s correspondent wrote that when she asked an elderly woman who had been waiting for more than two hours, the woman burst into tears and answered: “An observer from Amirkhanov’s [election team] asked me to write down the names of people who dropped bundles of ballots into the voting urns. I wrote them down. After that a representative of the local election commission asked me to leave the building and not interfere with the free expression of [the voters’] will. That request was repeated to me by an OMON [police commando] with an automatic weapon, who came right up to me. I was forced to obey” (Kommersant, April 29).

Izvestia headlined its article on the Ingushetian presidential run-off, “Ingushetia’s president elected by Russia’s president,” writing that Zyazikov’s victory was the result of “severe pressure” on the part of the federal authorities (Izvestia, April 29). For its part, Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported the results of the Ingushetian presidential run-off ironically. “On the day of the voting, the republic’s authorities managed to ensure that the carrying out of the election was held to a dignified standard,” the paper wrote. “The law enforcement organs and FSB placed all polling stations, without exception, including those in remote mountain villages, under tight control” (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, April 29).

If the residents of Ingushetia had voted without the federal center looking over their shoulders, it is doubtful Murat Zyazikov would have made it into the run-off. Practically no one in the republic knew him, and those who did probably did not like him, given that he was pushed into the republic’s presidential race by his boss, Viktor Kazantsev, who is extremely unpopular in Ingushetia. In the run-off, Ingushetia’s voters were torn by two strong feelings–fear of the federal center (many in Ingushetia believe Moscow is ready to create a second Chechnya in their republic) and trust in Aushev, who first called on them to vote for Khamzat Gutseriev, and then, after he was disqualified from the presidential race, threw his support behind Alikhan Amirkhanov.

Indeed, the Kremlin’s sole task in Ingushetia was to prevent any candidate supported by Aushev from being elected. In his final six months as Ingushetia’s president, Aushev was practically the only Russian regional leader who permitted himself to criticize the federal authorities’ policies publicly. Yet Aushev never allowed his opposition to turn into direct insubordination, and he was careful during both Chechen conflicts to extinguish any attempts in Ingushetia to resist Moscow. In short, Aushev pursued a careful and subtle policy vis-a-vis Chechnya and Moscow. Time will tell what kind of policy will succeed him.