Sergei Markedonov
(Director of the International Relations Issues at the Institute for Political and Military Analysis)

Copyright: http://www.caucasustimes.com

On 2 March 2008 Russian-controlled Northern Caucasus once again showed the country’s highest voter turnout, as well as the highest percentage of votes in favor of Vladimir Putin’s successor, Dmitry Medvedev. Comments by regional leaders and electoral commission officials create the impression of a triumphal success by the newly elected president.

“The people of the Republic have demonstrated political maturity, and clearly articulated their political sympathies and preferences,” noted North Ossetian leader, Taimuraz Mamsurov. In Mamsurov’s opinion, “Most important was the high voter turnout, which I, as the head of the republic, find inspiring.” Remarkably similar was the reaction in Ingushetia, a republic traditionally considered the political antagonist to North Ossetia. “The elections took place in a festive mood, without objections,” said Mussa Evloev, head of the Ingushetian electoral committee in a videoconference with the Central Electoral Committee’s information center “Elections-2008.”

Thus, in their positive reception of the election results, and of the country’s new leader, even opponents come together (representatives from two neighboring republics, who are barely moving towards resolving the conflict over Prigorodnyi district). “The successive nature of power, which the current government is demonstrating, means the continuation of reforms set in motion several years ago,” said Kabardino-Balkarian President Arsen Kanokov. “At the base of these reforms is the person – his needs and his interests.” The head of the republic did not bother to specify the person’s name. We will only note that as a result of the reforms set in motion by Putin, regional powers are no longer elected by the people, but rather appointed. Arsen Kanokov, along with Ramzan Kadyrov and Taimuraz Masurov, is one of the Kremlin’s appointees.

Indeed, the election results are impressive. In North Ossetia Dmitry Medvedev received over 74% of the vote, with 73.26% voter turnout. In Ingushetia, turnout was 92.3%, which is somewhat less than that for the State Duma elections on 2 February 2007. Medvedev received 91.6% of the Ingushetian vote, while Zhirinovskii got nearly 7%. To compare, “United Russia” almost took 100% of the vote in December – other parties did not even get 1%. Then again, Vladimir Putin himself warned that the successor would not find it easy battling for the highest post in the Russian government. At his “farewell press-conference” Russia’s second president entertained the question “Could Dmitry Anatolievich Medvedev count on the same kind of results [Putin was referring to the December elections to the Federal Parliament]? I don’t know, we’ll see.” The successor did not fail, and made the grade.

In Karachaevo-Cherkessia Medvedev received 90.35% of the vote, with 92% turnout. This time, the most “conscientious” district was Urupskii (96.22%), while in December 2007 Habezskii district had 100% turnout, with all the votes going to “United Russia.” In Kabardino-Balkaria, 88.8% of the vote went to Dmitry Medvedev (which is fewer than the number of votes that went to “United Russia” in December 2007. Then, the “ruling party” received 96.12% with a 96.7% turnout (the Communist Party received just 1.72%). In Dagestan, the largest North Caucasian republic, Medvedev received 92% of the vote, with a turnout just over 90%. In December 2007 “United Russia” won 91.44% of the Dagestani vote.

Attention Chechnya! Let’s not forget that the first regional leader to sense the change in policies of the “party and government” and to swear allegiance to Medvedev was Ramzan Kadyrov. Unlike the vacillating intelligentsia, the Chechen President has no doubt that anyone with the title of “successor” is bound to succeed. In Ramzan Kadyrov’s opinion, Vladimir Putin knows “the people who work with him; knows who is capable of what; knows who among the politicians can continue the reforms that are already underway, and not allow Russia to tumble back into the nineties, when chaos and lawlessness reigned.” In March 2008, Putin’s successor was supported by 88,7% of the republic’s electorate. Vladimir Zhirinovskii received 8.15% of the voters, while Gennadii Zuganov and Andrei Bogdanov received 2.9% and 0.85% respectively. Against the background of the Duma results, such a vote seems almost a pluralism of opinions. Turnout for the elections in Chechnya was traditionally high – 91.20% of eligible voters. According to official statistics, attendance in December 2007 was 99.2%, with 99% of that number going to “United Russia.”

The most “liberal” elections took place in the Stavropol (to which we will return later). There, Putin’s successor did not even break 70%. With turnout barely over 66%, Medvedev received 64.79% of the vote. Considerably more disciplined was the Rostov region, where Medvedev was supported by just over 77% (local administrators and election officials noted, with pride, that this was 7% higher than the national average). In the Don region, turnout was 69.53%. In Kalmykia, Medvedev received over 72% of the vote, and in the Krasnodar region – 75.25% (with attendance at 87.32%). According to Alexamder Tkachev, governor of the Kuban’ region, “it was a referendum on trust in the government; on trust in the continuation of the course that the country chose eight years ago with President Vladimir Putin. In summarizing the results, journalists and regional leaders noted, with satisfaction, the high turnout in Sochi (over 80%).

Those who want to see Vladimir Putin’s successor as a liberal will find signs of a “thaw” in the March 2008 election results. Even in Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan the number of votes in favor of the successor did not total 100%, while his opponents were able to gain a little more than 1% (which did not happen in the Duma elections). In reality, though, there cannot be talk of a “change in direction” as far as policy towards the Caucasus is concerned, at least in the near future. Today, Putin and Medvedev are concentrating on “the partition of power.” However, historical precedents (as they say, from Caesar and Pompey, Anthony and Octavian, to Yushchenko and Timoshenko) and Russia’s realities (let’s not forget the struggle between Khasbulatov and Yeltsin) suggest that all “tandems” and “triumvirates” sooner or later end up in someone’s victory, and someone else’s departure from power.

Naturally, all “tandems” based on personal unions and contracts, as opposed to the partition of power, cannot lead to anything but such ends. This is why power in Russia, preoccupied with its own “partition,” will become a good bargaining chip in the administrative and bureaucratic marketplace. Now, regional leaders (including those in the North Caucasus) will be deciding who is more important – the administration and the successor, or the White House apparatus and founder of the “self-named course.” The institutionalization of power, so necessary to the Caucasus, will be delayed, and informal ties and unions will strengthen and multiply. Then again, if we want to, we can also read the lower numbers (compared to December 2007) as a warning to the successor – “stay on your toes.”

Besides the presidential elections, 2 March also saw regional elections in a number of federal subjects in the North Caucasus. Parliamentary elections were held in Ingushetia, Kalmykia and the Rostov region. Compared with the wider federal elections, “United Russia’s” performance in Ingushetia was rather modest – 74.09%. In the Rostov region, “United Russia” gained 45 out of 50 seats (corresponding to 71% of the vote, based on a mixed system). In Kalmykia, elections to the regional parliament (the National Hural) were, by today’s standards, pluralistic. “United Russia” won with 55.21% of the vote. Local communists won 22.49%, and the Agrarian Party won 7.61%. Mikhail Chernichenko, a member of the “United Russia” party, became the mayor of Adygea’s regional capital, Maykop. In Dagestan, “United Russia” celebrated victory in elections to 14 different municipal institutions. A small sensation took place in the Stavropol region, where on 2 March an independent candidate named Alexei Semenyuk won with 31.22% of the vote, beating the agriculture and environment boss of the Stepnovskii region, Mikhail Rukovitsyn, with 29.01% of the vote. Rukovitsyn, it should be noted, was backed by “United Russia.” This election, of course, should not be seen as a democratic victory, but it only goes to show that the political environment in the “Red Belt” can be much freer than in subjects led by “young technocrats” with glasses and laptops.

Thus, 2 March was an electoral triumph not only for Dmitry Medvedev, but for “United Russia,” too. It went to show, once again, that the shining and impressive indicators about the North Caucaus are quite far from reality. All these percentages and “festive moods” have no effect on the terrorist activity or on assaults on law enforcement agents in Ingushetia and Dagestan (where a counterterrorist operation had been going on for two months in the Gimry). Neither do they affect the growth of radical Islam in such “oases” as Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachaevo-Cherkessia, or disputes between North Ossetia and Ingushetia over the Prigorodnyi district. Two worlds – two policies: that’s the image from Soviet Propaganda that can be applied in the North Caucasus.