Surprising news emerged from Moscow this week that Ruslan Aushev plans to challenge the current head of Ingushetia, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, and run for the position of republican head. Aushev made his unexpected announcement on the Dozhd TV channel on the evening of April 16, 2013. Aushev said that his decision was based on the fact that over 50,000 signatures in favor of his candidacy were collected in Ingushetia (http://izvestia.ru/news/547962) out of the republic’s 192,000 voters (www.cikrf.ru/izbiratel/quantity/quantity_010112.html). For such a small republic, this is, indeed, a high number of supporters. As of January, the total population of Ingushetia was estimated at 442,000 people. Aushev implied that if Ingushetia opted for direct elections instead of appointment by the local parliament, he would run for the office.
Ruslan Aushev was elected Ingushetia’s first president in December 1992 and was reelected several times subsequently. However, at the end of 2001, he was forced to step down under pressure from Vladimir Putin (www.peoples.ru/state/statesmen/aushev/). Reportedly, the Russian president was unhappy with Aushev’s insistence on finding a solution to the Chechen conflict through negotiations with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov. Indeed, Aushev made no secret of his sympathy for the Chechen rebel leader.
The current head of Ingushetia, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, stated that direct elections in Ingushetia are possible, but added a disclaimer: “We are not scared of direct elections for the head of the republic, but we are also considering the second option of appointment through the parliament. We trust the republican parliament in this question. Both ways of electing the head of Ingushetia are democratic” (www.gazeta.ru/politics/news/2013/04/02/n_2829285.shtml). So everything will depend on the parliament, which is handpicked from among Yevkurov supporters and will undoubtedly make the decision Yevkurov wants its members to make.
Yevkurov and Aushev are not the only viable candidates for the republican leadership. Supporters of another former president of Ingushetia, Murad Zyazikov, said they would like to see him as the next leader of the republic. The second president of Ingushetia, Zyazikov replaced Aushev and was completely beholden to Moscow. A Federal Security Service (FSB) lieutenant general, Zyazikov headed the republic from 2002 to 2008 (http://i-r-p.ru/page/stream-event/index-24666.html). Zyazikov’s departure from office was also premature. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev sacked him before the end of his term and appointed Yevkurov to replace him. Rebel activities in the republic peaked during Zyazikov’s governorship. Ingushetia’s opposition accused him of paying the rebels up to $1 million monthly to try to prevent insurgency attacks in the republic (http://i-r-p.ru/page/stream-event/index-24666.html). Zyazikov’s dismissal was mainly caused by a scandal in his entourage, which was accused of murdering the well-known Ingush opposition figure Magomed Yevloev (www.svoboda.org/content/article/463038.html).
An Internet social network group announced that Zazikov is preparing to run in direct elections in the republic (http://vk.com/club12211911). The same social network group conducted an Internet poll in which 53 percent of the respondents said they support Aushev and only 16 percent support their candidate, Zyazikov. Only 6 percent of respondents said they would support the current head of Ingushetia, Yevkurov. In contrast to Aushev, Zyazikov did not announce plans to run for office in the republic. Still, Ramzan Kadyrov invited Zyazikov to Grozny, apparently to annoy Yevkurov. The Chechen leader received Zyazikov as an honored guest (www.youtube.com/watch?v=IMYdl_-0VtY).
Practically all polls indicate that most people in Ingushetia would vote for Aushev. But there are three obstacles on his path to the republican presidency. First, the fact that Putin forced Aushev to resign reduces the latter’s chances to a minimum. Second, the opposition organization Mekhk Khel is also strongly opposed to Aushev, as he is considered to be too pro-Chechen (www.youtube.com/watch?v=DYvlWf45qoU). Finally, Yevkurov has no intention of allowing direct elections in the republic. In the opinion of Ingush blogger Aslan Khamkhoev, Yevkurov’s initiative to call for a gathering of the Ingush people has little to do with the stated goal of discussing relations with Chechnya. By emphasizing the territorial dispute with Chechnya, Yevkurov will try to convince the opposition not to challenge his position in the republic. As a result, parliament will appoint the head of the republic out of a slate of candidates selected by the Kremlin administration (http://publicpost.ru/blog/id/28536/).
All of this would make for interesting electoral intrigue, except for the fact that everything regarding who will run in the elections and who will be allowed to challenge the Kremlin’s candidate is being decided by Moscow. The Kremlin will select the winner of the elections in Ingushetia—which will be held this September 7—rather than Ingush society or the business elite of the republic, which will anxiously try to guess who the Kremlin’s candidate will be. If Ruslan Aushev becomes a candidate, that will mean that Putin personally approved this move. No one except for Vladimir Putin himself will dare approve Aushev’s candidacy, knowing the two men’s tense relations at the start of the second Chechen war.
Despite the predictability of the election’s results and Moscow’s control over them, they will still make it possible to assess the popularity of various political figures in Ingushetia, which is also not bad. Thus, whatever the outcome of the elections in the republic, it will provide much material for the analysis and assessment of Moscow’s policy toward the region and how this policy is received in Ingushetia.