Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 100

The May 16 runoff election for the head of the Karachaevo-Cherkessia republic has, in effect, been ruined. No official results have yet been announced, but unofficial ones apparently give the win to Vladimir Semenov, former head of Russia’s ground forces. The fourteen members of Russia’s Central Election Committee are evenly split on whether the election was legitimate.

Russian Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin and Kremlin administration chief Aleksandr Voloshin arrived today in the republic’s capital, Cherkessk, to attend to the increasingly tense situation there: Several thousand supporters of Stanislav Derev, the Cherkessk mayor, who reportedly lost the election, gathered in the streets last week and over the weekend to denounce the elections as fraudulent. By the order of Ivan Golbev, President Yeltsin’s temporary political representative in the republic, additional Interior Ministry forces have been sent to the republic. The authorities are worried about a confrontation between the backers of Derev and Semenov. Such a confrontation is now possible regardless of who, if anyone, is announced as the election’s winner (NTV, May 23).

The deteriorating situation in Karachaevo-Cherkessia was predictable. It is a politically unique republic in Russia. Prior to the recent elections, its inhabitants had never chosen the republic’s head. For twenty years, Vladimir Khubiev, an ethnic Karachaev, was in power at the behest of the Moscow authorities. It became the only republic or region without a popularly elected leader except for Dagestan, whose leader is determined by a special assembly of electors. One of the reasons the Kremlin waited so long to have elections in Karachaevo-Cherkessia was the potential for interethnic conflict, given the republic’s multi-ethnic composition. Some 50 percent of the republic’s population consists of ethnic Russians, 30 percent are Karachaev, 10 percent are Cherkes, 6.6 percent are Abazin (closely related to the Cherkes) (see the Monitor, April 29).

The recent elections have confirmed the fears of interethnic strife. As soon as rumors began to circulate that Semenov had won (his father is Karachaev, his mother is Russian), supporters of Derev, who is Cherkes, began a protest to demand that the election be invalidated and that the republic be brought under direct presidential rule. Yesterday Derev appealed to the demonstrators to end the protest, saying that the Kremlin had agreed to their demands. But if the Center does indeed agree to the demands of Derev’s supporters, it will spark an outpouring of protest from the Karachaev population, which still expects the election results to be in its favor (NTV, May 23).