Perspective
Volume XIV Number 1 (October-November 2003)

SPECIAL REPORT: WHY NOT 99%?

Elections a la Chechnya

 

By ARIELA SHAPIRO

 

Ahmad Kadyrov, Moscow’s choice for President of the republic of Chechnya, won the 5 October presidential election with an alleged 81.1% majority of the vote, with a supposed 77% of the population voting.

The reaction of domestic and foreign press sources to the election and its results has fluctuated from full endorsement to harsh castigation—the latter most fiercely by human rights groups. The bulk of western media coverage has been critical, and endorsement of the results has been negligible excepting Russian media and partisan institutions.

The few sources that did accept the election returns were the temporary Chechen Republic parliament, the Arab League, the Organization of Islamic Conference, the Russian newspaper Izvestiya, the Federation Council, and the Central Election Committee. Anatoli Popov, the Prime Minister of the temporary Chechen Republic parliament believes "that the people have come to trust the authorities of the republic...there is nothing unexpected about the results of the presidential election." (1) The reaction of the head of the Arab League’s mission to the Russian Federation, Ambassador Said Mohammad al-Barami, was punctuated by these words "...the Chechen elections are democratic and were held in keeping with all the requirements of the electoral law." (2) Al-Barami’s statement juxtaposed nicely with the declaration by Hamdi Irmak, Assistant Director of the Political Department of the General Secretariat of the Organization of Islamic Conference (an organization to which Russia has applied for observer status), that the results of the voting demonstrated " a free option of the Chechen people. (3) Additionally, Izvestiya ran an editorial on 6 October declaring that the election marked "an end of anarchy...and Chechnya has fully elected Akhmad Kadyrov"

The portrayal of the Chechen elections by western media has vacillated between mild criticism of the lack of true democratic processes, without necessarily questioning Kadyrov’s legitimacy, to full condemnation of the election and Kadyrov himself. A few examples of the milder critiques were found in The Financial Times, Associated Press, Toronto Star, and The New York Times, as well as from the State Department, and the OSCE. The Financial Times (6 Oct 03) stated "Kadyrov...was certain to win in Chechnya in an atmosphere of Kremlin interference;" this was echoed by The New York Times (7 Oct 03), which said that the results of the election "had been rubberstamped before the event...and won by a clear favorite of Moscow’s." The Associated Press and Toronto Star joined in stressing that the election had been directed by Moscow, headlining their stories with "Kremlin-Backed Leader wins Chechen Vote" (6 Oct 03) and "The Kremlin is Naming a President." (Toronto Star, 5 Oct 03 via Lexis-Nexis) The reactions of the OSCE and the United States government were expectedly understated, with a declaration by OSCE head Jaap de Hoop Scheffer that the elections lacked pluralism and international observers (most notably, OSCE observers), and a statement by Richard Baucher, State Department spokesman, that Washington doubted the " credibility and legitimacy" of the elections as far the Chechen people were concerned. (4)

The Economist, Guardian Unlimited, Le Monde, Independent, and Novaya gazeta led the international criticism of the elections: The Guardian Unlimited (5) ran a headline which read "The Turnout was high in ‘Farcical’ Chechen elections," and on 8 October that "He (Kadyrov) is not the people’s president;" The Economist declared that "the vote itself was a fraud of a kind befitting an African dictatorship;" (6) while Le Monde (7) called the election "strictly controlled by Moscow...without any semblance of a democratic presidential election." Novaya gazeta sent observers to monitor the elections who noted the lack of voter presence and the potential for stuffing ballot boxes. (9 Oct 03).

Additionally, the election results met with fierce condemnation by human rights groups, principally the Moscow Helsinki Group, the Memorial Group, and the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society. These three groups sent observers to the elections, who witnessed the actual stuffing of ballot boxes, lack of participation by Chechen voters, use of false or multiple forms of identification, and several electoral commission officials locking themselves in rooms with ballot boxes. Immediately after the election, the Moscow Helsinki Group declared the event "elections of shame," (8) while the Memorial Group characterized the election as a "farce." (9)

 

 

NOTES

(1) ITAR-TASS, 8 October 03 via Lexis-Nexis.

(2) ITAR-TASS, 6 October 03 via Lexis—Nexis.

(3) (Ibid.)

(4) www.state.gov.

(5) 6 October 03, www.guardian.co.uk.

(6) www.economist.com.

(7) 6 Oct 03 via Lexis-Nexis.

(8) Agence France Press, 8 Oct 03 via Lexis—Nexis.

(9) www.moscowtimes.com.

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Copyright ISCIP 2003
Unless otherwise indicated, all articles appearing in this journal have been commissioned especially
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