Dagestan’s parliament yesterday confirmed Khizri Shikhsaidov as the new head of the republic’s government. Shikhsaidov, whose candidacy was proposed by Magomedali Magomedov, the head of Dagestan’s State Council, replaces Abdurazak Mirzabekov. Mirzabekov was removed on August 20 after ten years as prime minister. Shikhsaidov, by contrast, is a virtually unknown politician. Until 1995 he was the manager of a wine factory and, most recently, he chaired Dagestan’s Audit Chamber. (Russian news agencies, August 20, 26) Mirzabekov’s departure is seen as part of an intensifying power struggle in Dagestan. Magomedov and Mirzabekov had for some time not seen eye to eye, and their latest clash is said to have been provoked by Mirzabekov’s opposition to Magomedov’s plan for a constitutional amendment introducing the post of president. (Nezavisimaya gazeta, August 22)
This is not just a personal power struggle. Dagestan is the most multi-ethnic republic in the Russian Federation and its political system reflects that fact. Ethnic considerations underlay the creation and composition of the State Council, Dagestan’s highest executive body, which is without parallel in other Russian republics. Representatives of Dagestan’s 14 largest indigenous ethnic groups plus one Russian representative have seats on the State Council on a parity basis. The chairman of the Council is an Avar, the prime minister is a Kumyk, and the chairman of the parliament is a Dargin. This means that the republic is led by representatives of its three largest ethnic groups.
But the Avars, who make up nearly 30 percent of the population, have for some time wanted to introduce the post of president, partly because the chances are good that an Avar would be elected. For this reason, Dagestan’s other ethnic groups oppose the idea, which has already been voted down in two referendums. Although both Mirzabekov and the newly-confirmed prime minister, Shikhsaidov, are Kumyks, Shikhsaidov is seen as far less likely than the strong-minded Mirzabekov to oppose Magomedov’s plan for a constitutional amendment and the introduction of the post of president. It is worth noting