On March 25, the Republic of Tatarstan held its third presidential election. The results were predictable: Incumbent President Mintimer Shaimiev won by a landslide (Russian agencies, March 26).
Until recently, Russian law did not allow regional leaders to stay in office for more than two terms. Recent changes, however, have made it possible for most of them to run for a third and even fourth term (though some governors, such as Bryansk Oblast Governor Yury Lodkin, decided to run for a third term even before they were legally allowed to do so).
Shaimiev won 81 percent of the vote on 25 March (Strana.ru, March 26). In 1991, when he first ran for election as president of Tatarstan, Shaimiev won 71 percent of the vote. Then, in his second bid in 1996, he won 97 percent. This month’s electoral contest differed from its predecessors in that Shaimiev did not, as before, run unopposed. Instead, he faced no fewer than four opponents. For this reason, Russia’s Central Election Commission hailed the election as a “democratic breakthrough” for Tatarstan–though they also criticized republic election officials for failing to ensure a level playing field for all competitors (Polit.ru, March 22).
Although Shaimiev faced four opponents, the possibility that one of his rivals might win was barely discussed. Sergei Shashurin and Ivan Grachev, both of whom represent Tatarstan in the Russian State Duma, received 5 and 4 percent, respectively, while Robert Sadykov, leader of the republic Communist Party, also won 4 percent (Strana.ru, March 26).
Shaimiev himself declined to engage in campaigning (NTV, March 23). But this did not mean that he refrained from blocking the opposition from campaigning. On the contrary: Formal pretexts were found under which two newspapers hostile to Shaimiev–Novaya Vecherka and Moskovsky Komsomolets in Tatarstan–were officially withdrawn from circulation (Regions.ru, March 22).
One reason why the opposition put up such a poor show was that they failed to join forces against Shaimiev. Apart from the Communists, Tatarstan’s major political groups either backed Shaimiev or failed to take a clear position. The local branch of the Union of Right-Wing Forces supported Shaimiev, as did the pro-Kremlin Unity Party (Polit.ru, March 12, 15). In the end, however, that hardly seemed to matter. “It is impossible to help someone whose election is already ensured by the system of power,” one local newspaper commented. “Such a leader depends not on the activists of this or that party, but on the coordinated efforts of the local administration” (Vechernyaya Kazan, [Tatarstan], March 12).
Tatarstan’s relations with the Putin leadership have not been easy in recent months. In his capacity as member of the presidentially appointed presidium of Russia’s State Council, Shaimiev was responsible for drafting proposals on the future shape of Russian federal relations. Shaimiev’s draft was based on the principle that powers would continue, as under Yeltsin, to be shared between the center and the regions on the basis of a series of (unequal) bilateral treaties between the center and the regions. Any powers not explicitly delegated to the center by the regions would, according to Shaimiev’s proposal, remain with the regions. Moreover, if a single regional representative in the upper house of the Russian parliament should vote against a bill, that bill would be rejected. Commentators felt that what Shaimiev was trying to create was not a federation, but a loose confederation in which the regions would run riot. His draft did not meet with favor in Putin’s Kremlin, which ensured that the State Council did not allocate time for its discussion. Now that Shaimiev’s six-month term on the State Council has run out, his draft has been quietly buried ((Rossiya, February 21; Izvestia, March 20). According to some reports, Shaimiev himself struck a deal with the Kremlin that he would not publicize his ideas until after the Tatarstan elections. Many saw this as a sign that Shaimiev had agreed that, if he were allowed to run for a third term, he would drop his revolutionary proposals (Kommersant, February 21). At the same time, Moscow also gave in to the ethnically based republics in their three-year struggle, spearheaded by Shaimiev, to use their national languages in the internal passports [identity documents] issued on their territory (Vremya Novostei, March 20).
With the defeat of his power-sharing paper, however, Shaimiev has lost a major battle. He has also suffered defeat over taxation. As Sergei Kirienko, presidential envoy to the Volga federal district, noted during his recent visit to Kazan, Tatarstan had until now kept for itself the lion’s share of taxes collected on its territory. Now this too is set to change (Polit.ru, March 22). Three days before Kirienko’s visit, the Federal Treasury opened its first branch in Kazan. Until then, Tatarstan had been the only republic without a representative of the federal treasury on its territory. Opening the new branch, Deputy Prime Minister Aleksei Kudrin declared that it marked completion of the process of creating a single centralized tax system throughout the Russian Federation (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, March 22).
As spokesman for Russia’s ethnically based republics, Shaimiev has over the past year put up a strenuous fight against Putin’s recentralizing efforts. Now Shaimiev has been confined to his own territory, and any further ambitions he may have entertained of playing a role on the federal stage seem to have been dashed.
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