Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 204

Events in Yakutia have continued to attract the attention of Russian politicians. Defying the predictions of many observers, the republic’s president, Mikhail Nikolaev, last week not only avoided being disqualified from participating in the presidential elections set for December 23, but may even have already secured himself a third term in office. Yakutia’s constitution rules out third terms for republic presidents, and even though this provision in the republican constitution contradicts existing federal law, the republic’s parliament has ignored the Russian Supreme Court’s urging that they amend the constitution to make it correspond with federal law. When the republic’s election commission registered Nikolaev as a candidate, the Central Election Commission (CEC) declared that he had no legal right to run for re-election and promised to annul his registration (see the Monitor, October 16, 28). However, while observers expected the CEC to announce the annulment of Nikolaev’s registration on October 30, the CEC postponed doing so after Yakutia’s Supreme Court decided to take up the issue of Nikolaev’s registration. The CEC said it did not want to violate the independence of the judicial authorities, but nonetheless repeated its view that Nikolaev did not have the right to run for a third term (Polit.ru, Russian agencies, October 30).

Some observers saw the Yakutia Supreme Court’s intercession as an attempt by the local authorities to steal the initiative from the federal center and use the power of the courts to reaffirm Nikolaev’s right to run for a third term (NTV, October 30). However the republic’s supreme court turned out to be even more clever: It passed on making a decision one way or the other, instead asking the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation to rule on the provision of Yakutia’s constitution that bars Nikolaev from seeking a third term (Radio Ekho Moskvy, October 31). The Constitutional Court would only be able to take up this issue in about six months from now, meaning that Nikolaev would be able to remain on the ballot in Yakutia’s December presidential election (Polit.ru, November 1). This maneuver serves Nikolaev better than would have a court decision in his favor, given that his opponents would be able to appeal such a decision in the Supreme Court of Russian Federation, and do so perhaps successfully.

It is still possible, however, that Nikolaev’s opponents will still find a way to knock him out of the presidential race. CEC head Aleksandr Veshnyakov warned that if Yakutia’s Supreme Court dragged out its decisionmaking process or took Nikolaev’s side, the CEC would take unspecified “adequate measures” (RTR, October 30). Shortly after making this statement, Veshnyakov wrote the federal Prosecutor General’s Office, urging it to ask Russia’s Supreme Court to take up the Nikolaev case (Polit.ru, November 1). Meanwhile, a group of CEC officials flew to Yakutia on November 1. While the CEC delegation’s official purpose is to determine whether preparations for the December election are being carried out in conformance with the law, it is possible that it is actually searching for a pretext under which to remove Nikolaev from the presidential race, just in case the CEC’s appeal to the Prosecutor General’s Office proves ineffective (Polit.ru, November 2).

Whatever the case, Nikolaev’s future as a candidate for re-election remains foggy. While various national media continue to insist that the Kremlin opposes Nikolaev’s re-election and that President Vladimir Putin did not promise backing for the Yakutian chief executive (see, for example, Vremya Novostei, October 31), Nikolaev continues to insist that this is the case. Putin himself remains silent on the issue. Meanwhile, some observers see the events in Yakutia as evidence of Putin’s weakness and inability to control the situation in the Far Eastern republic. One newspaper wrote that Russia would soon face another “critical” moment in its history and that Putin would “either let it be known that he controls the situation in the country” or turn into another Gorbachev (Vedomosti, November 1).