Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 105

Tatarstani Prime Minister Farid Mukhametshin was elected speaker of Tatarstan’s parliament, the State Council, on May 27. The post fell vacant when Vasily Likhachev was appointed as Russia’s permanent representative to the European Union. Mukhametshin’s candidacy was proposed by President Mintimer Shaimiev. The Monitor’s correspondent in the Volga region says Shaimiev is believed to have wanted to find a new job for Mukhametshin because he was dissatisfied with the prime minister’s economic performance. Nonetheless, our correspondent says, President Shaimiev did not get things all his own way. Until the day parliament met to consider Likhachev’s replacement, everyone assumed that Shaimiev’s candidate would be elected unopposed, especially as the opposition makes up only a tiny fraction of the deputies. Instead, no fewer than six candidates put themselves forward. They included the Mayor of Challi, Rafgat Altynbaev, and another former prime minister of Tatarstan, Mukhamet Sabirov.

Sabirov eventually stood down, but not before he had delivered a torrent of criticism at Mikhametshin and called on his fellow deputies to support Altynbaev. Even if Shaimiev had his doubts about Mukhametshin’s financial ability, and although Mukhametshin was eventually elected with seventy-seven votes to Altynbaev’s fifty, this was a slap in the face for President Shaimiev. Our correspondent says that the Tatarstani media are interpreting the event as a serious blow to the Shaimiev’s prestige. They point out that this was the first time the president’s authority had been publicly challenged, and there is speculation about the existence of a split in the republic’s “party of power” which has, until now, been unquestioningly loyal to the president.

Deputies may also, our correspondent reports, have been motivated by a desire to prevent the further rise to power of the republic’s present finance minister, Rustam Minnikhanov. According to unofficial sources, Shaimiev plans to appoint Minnikhanov as prime minister in Mukhametshin’s place. As finance minister, Minnikhanov has ruffled the feathers of many of Tatarstan’s regional bosses, who are well represented in the republic’s parliament. Oddly–in view of the fact that Likhachev was one of a dwindling number of ethnic Russians in the republic leadership–the fact that the new speaker is a Tatar appears to have provoked no comment in the local media.