Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 60

The results of the March 17 elections for the chairman of the government of the Tyva Republic, located in southern Siberia and one of the more separatist-minded Russian regions, were announced last week. Sherig-ool Oorzhak, who has been the republic’s president for ten years, won the contest, receiving more than 53 percent of the vote, which obviated the need for a run-off (Russian agencies, March 18, 20).

Unlike in many Russian regions, where leaders have managed to build their own systems and thus face no serious opposition in elections, six opponents ran against Oorzhak. These included several top local officials who constituted a real challenge to the incumbent, such as the chairman of the Supreme Khural, the republic’s parliament, and the mayor of Tyva’s capital, Kyzyl. Still, none of the challengers proved up to the task: The runner-up in the March 17 election, Supreme Khural Chairman Sholban Kara-ool, won only 24 percent of the vote. He was not helped by the fact that he heads the regional chapter of United Russia–the pro-Putin party recently formed by the centrist groups Unity and Fatherland-All Russia–nor by his reputation as being close to Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu, who is one of the heads of United Russia and perhaps the best known Tyva native (Polit.ru, Izvestia, March 18).

Oorzhak’s victory on March 17 means that he will serve a third consecutive term as the head of Tyva’s executive branch. He is now formally no longer the president but instead the chairman of the government. The title was changed in May 2001 as the result of a republican referendum approving a new constitution. This new document dispensed with a number of provisions in the old one that contradicted federal law. In particular, the new constitution provides for a normal bicameral parliament in place of the old legislature, which consisted of a thirty-two-seat Supreme Khural and a 250-seat Great Khural. At the same time, the title of the head of Tyva’s executive branch was renamed and the position’s powers were widened. In particular, the government chairman can now independently appoint both members of the cabinet of ministers and judges–the latter power again exceeds that permitted by federal law (SMI.ru, March 18).

Tyva’s law previously allowed the republic’s president no more than two terms in office. The recent changes in the constitution, however, have fudged the issue–a feint to which the federal center clearly has no plans to react. This may be connected to the fact that Tyva’s ambitions toward achieving an autonomous status are no less than those of Tatarstan. In the early twentieth century, Tyva was for a time an independent state, though completely controlled by the Soviet Union. The Kremlin, which has no reliable ally in the republic, would have problems were it to confront the independent-minded republic. In any case, Aleksandr Veshnyakov, head of the Central Election Commission, said that he had no quarrels with the outcome of Tyva’s election. Oorzhak’s de facto re-election to a third term, he commented, did not contradict local law because the republic’s top executive position had been “renamed” (Interfax, Polit.ru, March 18).

None of this means, of course, that no one will challenge the results of the March 17 election. In the final week before the vote, Tyva’s Supreme Court heard some twenty lawsuits aimed at removing Oorzhak from the elections and rejected all of them, saying that it found that the incumbent had committed no serious violations. It is probable that some of these suits will be pursued further. The record of the past, however, suggests that it is impossible to mount a successful legal challenge to an election that has already been held (Kommersant, March 18).