Saturday, November 17, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Must Manage Republic Elections to Block Nationalists from Gaining Power, Institute Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 17 – The Institute for Social-Economic and Political Research says that Moscow must adopt special arrangements for elections in the non-Russian republics of the country in order to prevent nationalists from coming to power and threatening the territorial integrity of the country.

            Based on a close analysis of the campaigns and elections of2012, the report concludes, Institute President Dmitry Badovsky said on Thursday, that Moscow should hold immediate elections in 31 federal subjects and impose special limitations on elections in non-Russian republics (

On the one hand, holding elections in 31 federal subjects right away would eliminate the problem of cohabitation between elected and non-elected governors in neighboring regions as will otherwise be the case between those in Moscow city and Moscow oblast given that voting there will take place in 2015 and 2016 respectively.

And on the other – and this is a more serious concern, changing the rules under which governors in the non-Russian republics and especially those that are bi- or multi-national in composition are elected is necessary in order to block the appearance of secessionist rhetoric in campaigns, the victory of nationalists, and thus threats to the territorial integrity of Russia.

            Such a danger is especially great in the North Caucasus during the 2016-2018 electoral cycle during which voters in the republics there will take part in Duma elections as well as gubernatorial and presidential votes.” Such campaigns could “provoke intra-elite conflicts,” something that could be limited by moving some of those elections forward.

            But that won’t be enough to avoid problems in these republics, the report concludes. It says that with regard to the non-Russian republics, “the introduction of direct elections for the head of the region is premature and excessive.” And the report says that “the actual order of the forming of executive power [there] must be defined on the basis of local conditions.”

            Aleksandr Pozhalov, the deputy director of the Institute, noted that “the law on parties and the municipal filter had not removed the problem of the participation in elections of extra-systemic candidates who will try to raise national themes and openly call or the disintegration of the country.

            He pointed to four possible models that could be used to prevent this. First, the Daghestani model in which the head of the republic will be chosen only from among deputies to the republic parliament. Second, one using a similar form of indirect election but allowing parties to nominate non-parliamentarians as well.  Third, direct elections but only among candidates represented in legislatures. And fourth, direct elections but only on party lists.

            According to the report, “various extremist parties” calling for independence “arise with a well-known periodicity,” and elections only intensify that pattern.” And it warns that “if earlier the number of members of these parties was a barrier to their victory, the liberalization of the law on parties can lead to undesirably political consequences precisely here.

            Indeed, the report says, that possibility almost guarantees that electoral campaigns for the leadership of the multi-national subjects of the Russian Federation will be fraught with “’undesirable elements of conflict on a national (or religious) basis.’”

            Oleg Ignatov, a political scientist with whom “Vzglyad” spoke, said that he agreed with the Institute report that “problems with electoral campaigns in the national republics may arise because many of them potentially are places where instability can arise and threaten the existence of the state as a whole.”

            But his own research (See hassled him to conclude that now that all the elections will take place on the same day, the rise of the development of regional political systems is likely. He added that any modifications in election rules must come from below via referendum rather than orders from above if conflicts are to be avoided.

            But even that involves “risks,” Ignatov pointed out. “The current regional political elites can try to usurp power” via referendums. That however is the kind of “struggle” out of which “democracy is born,” the political scientist said.

            Yet another idea is now being floated – doing away with the national republics as several politicians have suggested or at least changing their names to eliminate any ethnic dimension ( According to Ivan Ognyev, the director of the Center for the Support of Regional Initiatives of the Moscow Higher School of Economics, these institutions are at best unnecessary and at worse dangerous.

            They are unnecessary because all nations can have extraterritorial national-cultural autonomy. And they are dangerous because “every national quasi-state within Russia is no more than an instrument for the mobilization of ethnic groups for advancing their representatives to key positions in order to secure control over state policy, budgetary flows and property.”


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