Saidullaev Removed From Chechnya’s Presidential Race

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 5 Issue: 30

On July 22, the election officials of Chechnya’s pro-Moscow administration formally rejected the registration of Malik Saidullaev as a candidate in the republic’s special presidential election scheduled for the end of August. The pro-Moscow authorities thus removed from contention the one serious competitor to Kremlin-anointed candidate Alu Alkhanov, who is now being given saturation, Putin-style coverage by the state-controlled broadcast media.

Ela Vakhitov, secretary of the Chechen Election Committee, said in a telephone interview with Reuters published on July 22 that Saidullaev’s passport “was ruled to be invalid, because his place of birth was listed as the village of Alkhan-Yurt, Chechnya. But there is no such region as Chechnya. It should have said the Chechen-Ingush republic, which was the name of the region in Soviet times when he was born.”

But as correspondent Yelena Shishkunova pointed out on July 22, Saidullaev’s passport was issued back in 1993, so it is “strange” that the election officials did not take note of the alleged irregularity when he filed as a candidate for the republic’s presidential election last autumn. Anna Politkovskaya observed in the July 26 edition of Novaya gazeta that “it is only one step from the horrible to the ridiculous….What is piquant is that Mr. Saidullaev did not draw up the passport himself, rather it was issued by the Balashikhinsky internal affairs directorate of Moscow Oblast—that is, by an official state agency.”

Saidullaev told Shishkunova in a telephone interview that he did not intend to take any steps to try to get the election authorities’ decision overturned. “I shall just marvel at this latest farce,” he said, “and await the results of the election and their consequences. It will turn out to be just like last year’s election.” He told Politkovskaya that “of course I expected that I would be removed from the ballot, but not in such a stupid way.”

Saidullaev also told Politkovskaya what had happened earlier, when he showed up at the official election commission in Grozny to file the documents for registration of his candidacy. “I found myself surrounded by armed men, a unit of about 100,” he said. Commanding them were two deputy heads of the pro-Moscow Chechen administration’s Interior Ministry. They demanded that Saidullaev simply leave; he refused, but was told by Taus Dzhabrailov (head of the pro-Moscow administration’s State Council) that “we do whatever we want here.”

There followed what Saidullaev called “a heated and harsh discussion…They realized that they could not use force against me: I was guarded by personnel of the [federal] regional operations headquarters.” The pro-Kadyrov gunmen tried to disarm the federal troops, but without success. “I was then warned several times that in any case they would remove me [from the election race],” he said. “Three days before the episode of the ‘invalid passport’ the election commission phoned me and suggested that I withdraw on my own…but I refused.”

Also rejected by the election commission—most likely as a tactic to make the exclusion of Saidullaev seem less arbitrary—were the filing documents of would-be candidates Yaragi Mamodaev, Adam Edilov, and Zura Magomadova. Only six other candidates now remain to give the election campaign a faint resemblance to a real contest. They are Umar Abuev, Magomed Aidamirov, Mukhmud-Khasan Asakov, Abdula Bugaev, Movsar Khamidov, and Vakha Visaev. In her Novaya gazeta article, Anna Politkovskaya described four of these—Abuev, Aidamirov, Asakov and Visaev—as “simply doubles” for Alkhanov who will not even campaign for themselves. The veteran Federal Security Service (FSB) officer Khamidov, she suggested, would make some effort to promote his candidacy but would not have any chance of “changing the course of events…the FSB has refused to support him and is hailing Alkhanov as the choice of Kadyrov and Putin.”

The English-language Moscow Times on July 23 quoted Saidullaev as saying that the election authorities had been obeying “an order from the Kremlin.” In an ominous hint, he said that he nevertheless still plans to run again for the republic’s presidency sometime in the future, but “in an independent Chechnya.”

Even more ominously, Saidullaev told Reuters: “Whoever decided this made a serious mistake. This means there is only one legitimate president of Chechnya, and that is Maskhadov. Sooner or later the Kremlin will have to meet his envoys.”

Asked by Politkovskaya of Novaya gazeta to predict what will happen later this year, Saidullaev answered that “it will be very hot. All these legalized bands [of former guerrillas]…are not in a position to hold out against the kind of force that conducted [last month’s] operation in Ingushetia. The people have switched their support to those [the rebels] who are now in the highlands.”

Aaron Rhodes of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights said in a July 23 statement that “the Russian authorities are apparently not interested in running a free and fair ballot in Chechnya. Rather, much as in 2003, they are seeking to railroad the election of a favored candidate in a one-horse race.”