Sixteen candidates have been officially registered in Chechnya for the presidential election set for January 27. Incumbent president Zelimkhan Yandarbiev, himself a candidate, will continue to act as head of state until the election is over. All other candidates have had to resign their official posts. Including Yandarbiev, six candidates are considered to be leading contenders. They are former prime minister Aslan Maskhadov, former first deputy premier Movladi Udugov, former national security adviser Akhmed Zakaev, field commander Shamil Basaev, and president of the Confederation of Caucasian Peoples, Yusup Soslambekov. (Itar-Tass, January 2) Maskhadov is said to be the popular favorite, and is preferred also by the Kremlin, which sees him as a moderate with whom it can do business.
Campaigning has not yet officially started. Before it does, all sixteen candidates are supposed to gather to take an oath of allegiance to incumbent president Yandarbiev and to promise that they will wage a clean campaign. The oath was to have been administered by Chechnya’s chief mufti yesterday, but only eleven candidates turned up so the ceremony was postponed until today. Russian television says the number of election posters on the streets of war-destroyed Grozny is growing by the minute. Udugov’s posters so far outnumber those of the other candidates, while Maskhadov’s are few and far between. (Itar-Tass, NTV, January 2)
Meanwhile, attempts to persuade the contenders to unite behind a single candidate for Chechnya’s presidency have thus far been unsuccessful. (NTV, January 2) Udugov insists there is still a possibility of agreement on a single name, but the chances are fading and there seems little likelihood of a deal between at least two of the leading contenders — Yandarbiev and Maskhadov.
Yesterday, the head of the OSCE mission in Chechnya demonstrated the indelible ink that is to be used to mark the hands of those who have voted and to prevent multiple voting. (NTV, January 2) The Chechen authorities talk of an electorate of 350,000, which excludes many of the estimated 300,000 people who fled Chechnya during the war. Chechen officials have agreed to set up polling booths in neighboring Ingushetia and Dagestan. But they have resisted Russian pressure to set up polling stations in other parts of Russia, both because of a shortage of money and because many of the those who fled are ethnic Russians believed to oppose Chechen independence. (ORT, December 26; NTV, December 24 and 27)
A total of 328 candidates from 40 political movements and parties have registered for the parliamentary election which is also being held on January 27.
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