Much of the punditry about the race to fill the pro-Moscow administration’s vacant presidency has assumed that the Kremlin will continue its policy of favoring a single strong leader in Chechnya – backing that leader’s near-total control over the parliament, the local district administrations, and other political structures. In that scenario, Akhmad Kadyrov’s successor is supposed to have the same sweeping powers and lack of an effective opposition (other than the violent opposition of the separatist guerrillas) that Kadyrov himself enjoyed. This, after all, is the kind of distribution of powers, or rather lack of distribution, that the Putin administration favors for the Russian Federation as a whole: a strong “vertical of power” with virtually no checks and balances. But this is not the only possible scenario.
The Kremlin might well decide that its interests are better served in Chechnya by turning Chechnya’s rubber-stamp legislature into a body with real powers independent of the executive leader. The federal center would then be able to play off the Chechen president and the Chechen parliament against each other, enhancing its own leverage over both.
Apparently at least some people inside the Kremlin are now looking favorably on that option. Tantalizingly, the well-connected, Kremlin-oriented Strana.ru website republished on May 14 an article by Ivan Sukhov of Vremya Novostei proposing that Chechnya’s parliamentary and presidential elections be held simultaneously. Sukhov also suggested that the Kremlin should see to it that voters are given a wide choice of presidential candidates.
Sukhov emphasized what he called “the unreliability of a political system built around a single, essentially irreplaceable individual – as Akhmad Kadyrov was in Chechnya.” “As soon as this individual ceased to exist, the whole system became precarious,” he wrote. What is needed to prevent this problem from being repeated in the future is “a fully operational system of government agencies, including a parliament.”
At least one prominent pro-Moscow Chechen has already endorsed that idea. Sukhov quoted Abdul-Khakim Sultygov, Putin’s former special representative in Chechnya, as saying recently: “The presidential election must be combined with a parliamentary election, to make the system of government stronger…This is a matter of counterterrorist strategy, and not just a political necessity.”
Even more daringly, Sukhov cited Moscow political scientist Sergei Markov’s suggestion that the parliament could include what Sukhov called “small groups representing the point of view of the ‘other side’ (i.e., the resistance fighters).” This would “strengthen the public’s confidence in the government,” given that it “would no longer consist only of a single ‘Kremlin protege’ but would be made up of a whole group of representatives of the public,” Sukhov wrote.
An analysis published by Gazeta.ru on May 24 discussed an even more daring variation of this idea: to delay the presidential election until after the parliamentary election. The newly elected parliament could then proceed to name a temporary, acting president; this person would clearly not be the country’s real leader and thus his assassination would not throw the whole republic into political turmoil as the elder Kadyrov’s did. The Kremlin would then have more time in which to develop a candidate to fill the post for the long term.
An argument in favor of this scenario, not mentioned by the Gazeta.ru analysis, is that such collective leadership would be more in keeping with Chechnya’s decentralized, freedom-loving political culture than would the one-man rule so congenial to the Russians. But as the website correctly noted, a huge disadvantage would be the risks involved in prolonging even further the current political uncertainty. Evidently the Kremlin has already rejected this option.
Interestingly, the younger Kadyrov has already expressed himself on the issue of parliamentary government in Chechnya – and his statement of his views was predictable both in substance and in style. According to an article by Aleksandr Ryklin published in Yezhenedelny Zhurnal on May 18, reformist Duma member Boris Nemtsov gave a speech in Gudermes some time ago in which he said that the parliamentary model is the most suitable for governing a place like Chechnya. “A murmur of disapproval was heard in the auditorium – which of course was full of Kadyrov supporters,” Ryklin reported. “During a break, Kadyrov’s son Ramzan came up to Nemtsov and hissed through his teeth, ‘If you say anything like that again, I will kill you. You are in our hands here.'”