Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 147

On July 23, Russia’s Supreme Court ordered the Supreme Court of the Karachaevo-Cherkessia republic to revoke its verdict recognizing as valid the results of the elections for the republic’s head. The Supreme Court said that the regional Supreme Court had not looked at all the material involving the case, and ordered it again to take up the issue of the legality of the elections. Meanwhile, on July 24, President Boris Yeltsin signed a decree naming Valentin Vlasov, previously the president’s representative in Chechnya, as temporary head of Karachaevo-Cherkessia (NTV, RTR, ORT, July 23-24).

Karachaevo-Cherkessia’s first elections almost led to a civil war, and one reason the Kremlin waited so long before allowing free elections there was the danger of interethnic conflict, given the republic’s ethnic mix. Approximately 40 percent of Karachaevo-Cherkessia is Russian, 30 percent is Karachaev, 10 percent is Cherkess and 6.6 percent is Abazin (ethnically close to the Cherkess). Events surrounding the election appear to bear out the Center’s fears: As soon as rumors began to swirl that former Russian ground forces commander Vladimir Semenov, a Karachaev, had won, supporters of his opponent Stanislav Derev, mayor of the republic’s capital and a Cherkess, began a days-long protest, demanding that the vote be invalidated. The republic’s electoral committee split, with half claiming the vote had been fair, the other half saying that it should be invalidated because of cheating. The situation became increasingly tense, and threatened to become an armed confrontation. While the republican Supreme Court declared the results valid, it asked the federal Supreme Court to make a final decision.

The latter’s decision to invalidate the decision of the republic court was apparently politically motivated: The Kremlin seems to be dragging its feet over whether to recognize Semenov’s victory. On July 23, Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin said that it is necessary to solve constitutionally “the issues of new elections and creating the conditions for normal elections” (NTV, RTR, July 23). However the executive and judicial branches of power would appear to have supported the demands of the Cherkess political elite in overturning the republic Supreme Court’s decision. This creates a dangerous precedent: In republics with many ethnic groups, elections are generally competitions between rival ethnic elites, and now the side that loses can demand that the results be overturned to prevent instability.

[Beginning with this issue, The Monitor will feature profiles of Ukraine’s presidential candidates in this October’s election.]