Voting in Ingushetia and Chechnya Again Scrutinized

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 9 Issue: 9

Ingushetia’s election commission reported on March 4 that 92.3 percent of the republic’s eligible voters voted in the Russian presidential and republican legislative elections, both of which were held on March 2, Kavkazky Uzel reported. According to the commission, 91.6 percent of those in Ingushetia who voted in the presidential election cast their ballots for Dmitry Medvedev, while 6.1 percent voted for Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, 1.5 percent voted for Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov and 0.1 percent voted for Democratic Party leader Andrei Bogdanov. In the election for Ingushetia’s People’s Assembly held the same day, the pro-Kremlin United Russia party received 74.09 percent of the vote, the LDPR won 11.06 percent, the pro-Kremlin A Just Russia party received 7.39 percent of the vote and the Communist Party won 7.34 percent.

Magomed Yevloev, the proprietor of the opposition website who also organized the “I Didn’t Vote” campaign after the Russian parliamentary election last December 2, claimed that no more than 3.5 percent of Ingushetia’s population participated in the March 2 vote. “Our observers were at all 160 polling stations [and] counted everyone who arrived to vote,” Yevloev said. “The only polling station where we didn’t have someone was in Magas. The police didn’t allow observers there. The observers counted 5,700 people who participated in the voting.” The “I Didn’t Vote Campaign” collected statements from more than 90,000 of the republic’s inhabitants—54 percent of its eligible voters—declaring that they did not vote in Russia’s State Duma election last December 2 (Chechnya Weekly, January 31). According to the official results, 98.3 percent of the Ingushetia’s eligible voters went to the polls on December 2.

In Chechnya, according to official statistics, 91.2 percent of the republic’s eligible voters took part in the March 2 Russian presidential election (down from 99.5 percent of the Chechen electorate which, according to election officials, turned out to vote in the State Duma election last December 2) and of those, 88.7 percent voted for Dmitry Medvedev, Kavkazky Uzel reported on March 3. The website quoted an unnamed Chechen election commission official as saying that LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky came in second, with 8.15 percent of the vote, Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov came in third, with 2.19 percent of the vote, and Democratic Party leader Andrei Bogdanov placed fourth, with 0.85 percent of the vote.

According to Kavkazky Uzel correspondent Muslim Ibragimov, many of the Grozny residents with whom he talked said they did not vote on March 2 because they were certain that “everything was decided long ago” and the election was a farce. “I don’t doubt for a second that Dmitry Medvedev will win the Russian presidential election,” said Vakha Gaisumov. “Everyone understands this. I simply don’t understand why Zyuganov, Zhirinovsky and Bogdanov are pretending. Even they, in my view, know full well that they don’t have the slightest chance to win. Probably they simply like the process of participating in this undertaking. For them, probably, it’s like with failed athletes, who have the slogan: ‘The most important thing is participation, not victory’!”

Speaking at a forum held by the Moscow Carnegie Center on March 3 on the theme, “The North Caucasus after the elections,” Tatyana Lokshina, currently a researcher with Human Rights Watch, said that Grozny residents generally do not participate actively in elections and that many, fearing rebel attacks, leave the city during elections. “And although the level armed confrontations is extremely low in Chechnya now, judging by what my colleagues are telling me from Grozny, a great many inhabitants, out of habit, left the city on election day,” Kavkazky Uzel quoted her as saying. On the other hand, inhabitants of Chechen villages do participate in elections, Lokshina said. “In the village everything is in full sight,” she said. “The consolidated regime in Chechnya is extremely harsh and no one wants to stand out. Not to vote in elections is in and of itself an act of protest and villagers cannot [risk] that.”

In addition, since the elections in Chechnya in 2003, there has been a kind of informal “socialist competition” among district and village administrations over who will have higher turnout, Lokshina said. “The winners are awarded honors [and] receive high-priced gifts—for instance, automobiles. Therefore, inhabitants are essentially forced to appear at the polling stations. Above all, this concerns government workers. Despite the fact that the number of kidnappings has significantly dropped over the last couple of years [and] that there have been fewer cases of torture in the Chechen Republic, people are extremely frightened and must refrain not only from protesting, but from simply expressing dissent.”

Commenting on the election results in Ingushetia, Lokshina said she believes that while the official turnout of 92.3 percent was unquestionably greatly inflated, the 3.5 percent figure given by Magomed Yevloev was a gross underestimate. She added that she had received a complaint that employees at schools in Ingushetia, which were used as a polling station on March 2, “beginning with the teachers and ending with the janitors,” had been forced to stand around at the polling stations all day in order to create “crowd scenes.” In addition, Lokshina said she also received complaints that teachers had been forced to vote several times. “Moreover, I heard from people in Ingushetia that they went to polling stations on March 2 and found that someone had already voted in their place,” she added.

All the republics of the North Caucasus are united by the fact that none of them have the conditions necessary for free voting, Lokshina said. She added: “True, in the context of the most recent elections, that phrase already means nothing. It is no longer possible to speak of an electoral process anywhere in Russia.”