Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 83

Karachaevo-Cherkesia’s first election for the republic’s head, which took place April 25, was characterized by large voter turnout: 77.3 percent of the voting population went to the polls. The frontrunners were 52-year-old Stanislav Derev, who, according to preliminary results, received 40.1 percent of the vote, and 58-year-old Vladimir Semenov, who received 17.9 percent. Because neither received more than 50 percent of the vote, a runoff will have to be held. The current head of the republic’s administration, Vladimir Khubiev, received 6.4 percent of the vote, according to preliminary data (Izvestia, April 27). Khubiev, who is an ethnic Karachaev, has been in power in Karachaevo-Cherkessia for eighteen years. As opposed to other apparatchiks of the old school, he never adapted to the new rules of the game and continued to run the republic according to the old, even pre-perestroika methods. Khubiev never before faced general election, but was named head of the republic by President Boris Yeltsin, with the agreement of the local parliament.

The two winners are known both inside and outside the republic. Derev heads the “Mercury” firm, which produces mineral water by that name, along with several brands of vodka and furniture, all of which are sold in practically all of Russia’s major cities. Yet because of certain local factors, Derev has one major “shortcoming.” He is an ethnic Cherkes (a group which makes up some 10 percent of the republic’s population). The Karachaev political elite, a group which accounts for around 30 percent of the republic’s population, will do everything it can to hold on to power. With this in mind, Derev has been doing everything he can to win over the republic’s ethnic Russians, who make up around 40 percent of the population. If the Russians, along with the Cherkes and Abazins (who make up around 6.6 percent of the population), vote for Derev, he is likely to win.

Derev’s main opponent, Vladimir Semenov, an ethnic Karachaev, is a former head of the Russian army’s ground forces. His relatively weak showing in the first round of voting was deceptive, because the Karachaev vote was split among several candidates. Yet if Derev wins the run-off, the Karachaev political elite is unlikely to accept this and may demand that Karachaya separate from the republic–something a number of public organizations have already been pushing. The republic, thus, could become the next North Caucasus “hot spot.”

The Karachaya autonomous oblast existed until 1944, when Stalin deported the Karachaev. After they returned from exile in 1957, the oblast was merged with Cherkessia.