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Karachayevo-Cherkessia Elections: No More Bets!

Elections in national republics: what is the Kremlin's position?
Even though mass media paid little attention to the presidential elections in Karachayevo-Cherkessia, everybody seemed to be anxious about the results of the elections. The events that occurred during the elections in 1999 seriously destabilized the situation in the republic and nearly caused an armed conflict; that is why people felt rather cautious about the recently held elections as well. Almost all observers and journalists covering the 2003 elections have recurred to the subject as they expected the situation may repeat once again. For the time being the situation in the republic is rather stable, but the presidential elections in Karachayevo-Cherkessia have once again posed a burning question: what should be Russia's policy with respect to its national republics?

The Election Committee of Karachayevo-Cherkessia finally admitted the victory of Mustafa Batdyev; the man has already received a temporary mandate of the republic president, an official inauguration is scheduled for September 10.

The new leader of the republic was adjured; Mustafa Batdyev said in his official address: "The complicated situation in the republic makes me fulfil the presidential obligations already today." As it could be expected, election of the new president entailed personnel reshuffling.

The heads of three regions of the republic who had initiated protest actions against Batdyev were fired. Observers say that another supporter of ex-president Vladimir Semyonov, well-known head of the administration of Ust-Dzhegutinsky Region Napoleon Borlakov may be fired soon too.  

It should be mentioned that the ex-president of the republic won't give up. The Republican Supreme Court is still considering his claim to declare results of the elections void. At the same time, news agencies report about mass protests organized by supporters of Vladimir Semyonov. However, these efforts are hardly likely to be a success.

First of all, Vladimir Semyonov has lost the battle in a psychological aspect; he will hardly be able to summon his strength once again. But many mass media report at that the 1999 situation may still repeat in the republic. Let's believe that the situation won't come to an ethnic conflict although this possibility still exists. There are several reasons that actually support this opinion. 

The first thing that candidates hope for is to win support of the federal center. As a rule, a candidate who manages to win this support becomes the leader of the elections. As for Karachayevo-Cherkessia, the Kremlin showed no obvious support to any of the candidates; however both candidates who entered the second stage of the elections expected to win this support. While the ex-president expected to get support of the Kremlin by force of habit, his rival took the issue more seriously.
As a result, the outcome of the elections is officially admitted by the RF Central Election Commission and representatives of the presidential envoy in the Southern Federal District. Even before the elections it could be guessed that the Kremlin preferred the candidature of Mustafa Batdyev: this was clear after the scandal connected with Vladimir Semyonov's statements saying he had met with President Putin. The electorate understands that if a candidate meets the president easily, then the president supports this very candidate. But as it turned out later, Vladimir Semyonov had no meetings with Vladimir Putin, as a result the candidate lost the trust of the electorate and the Kremlin.

The opinion of the Central Election Commission was the final factor that made the Kremlin prefer the candidature of Mustafa Batdyev. In a word, the failure of the ex-president is a generally admitted fact.

The high risk of armed conflicts in the republic as a result of ethnic contradictions between supporters of different candidates has revealed a great problem of Russia's policy toward its national republics. There are several possible behavior patterns for the Kremlin.

First of all, if we take into consideration the multi-nationality of any republic where each candidate defends the interest of his own clan, the Kremlin should send his own representative candidate to the republic so that none of the clans could be offended. This variant was practiced in pre-revolution Russia and could be acceptable even now.

The head of a national republic (let's say he is a Russian by nationality) may successfully carry out a neutral policy taking account of the interests of all people inhabiting the republic. But this variant may fail as well. The increase of national self-actualization and the practice of democratic elections may spoil this variant and the electorate will ignore a candidate send from the outside.

Then the second variant may come up. The Kremlin may show an obvious support to a local candidature. This variant was a success in Karachayevo-Cherkessia in 1999. What is more, this variant is also possible at the forthcoming presidential elections in Chechnya. This variant means that the Kremlin should reach an agreement with some candidate to finally get a loyal leader of the region. However, it is still not clear to what extent this leader will have to be subordinated to the government and to the Russian president. In this case, it is not ruled out that a vice-president of the republic must be a protege of the Kremlin. Even if this variant is taken as the basic one, interests of all parties can be taken into consideration.

This is still not clear how the situation will change after the elections in Karachayevo-Cherkessia and in Chechnya. It is still not ruled out that a loosing party may show armed resistance. This doesn't mean that the Chechen scenario may repeat, but small-scale armed conflicts may still occur in the republic. If such conflicts do occur the situation will mostly depend upon the leaders of the republics and their ability to calm down such conflicts. At least, this is quite obvious now that the Kremlin wants to form republican authority that would be legitimate, loyal to the central power and at the same time respected by the local population. Let's wait and see how effective this policy is.

Igor Kulagin