Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Window on Eurasia: If Kalmykia Becomes a ‘Parliamentary Republic,’ Might Other Federal Subjects Follow?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 13 – An unusual concatenation of conditions – a former president who remains extremely popular, problems in local party organizations, and Moscow’s concerns about stability – means that the September elections in Kalmykia could effectively transform that republic from a gubernatorial to a parliamentary republic.

            Few other federation subjects currently share those features, at least some have them to a greater or lesser degree, and leaders and politicians in them are likely to be watching what happens in Elista as an indication of a course they might pursue in order to enhance their own standing and power relative to the center.

            In an article in yesterday’s “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” Andrey Serenko describes the intriguing situation in Kalmykia, a predominantly Buddhist republic adjoining the North Caucasus whose former leader Kirsan Ilyumzhinov attracted attention most often in the past because of his interest in chess (

            Ilyumzhinov remains extremely popular, the journalist says, and “six months before the elections to the People’s Khural, there “have begun serious changes in the leadership of the main political parties” in the republic, changes that could mean the former president could become the speaker of the parliament and the real center power of power in Kalmykia.

            Civic Platform remains headed by Mengiyan Yashayev, “a well-known entrepreneur and politician.” Just Russia has a new leader in Erdin Karuyev, who, Serenko suggests, is “considered one of the most effective and influential Kalmyk politicians.  And according to sources, the KPRF branch there is about to replace Nikolay Nurov as its party leader.

            Despite their differences, the leaders of these three parties are “united on the main thing: they are convinced supporters of former Kalmykia President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, as is, the “Nezavisimaya gazeta” writer point outs, Sanal Kuvakov, the head of the republic section of the LDPR.

            “This means that in the formation of candidate lists” from all these parties, the former president “will be able to include his supporters,” according to political expert Svetlana Kolosova. And she and other observers suggest that United Russia will also include a majority of pro-Ilyumzhinov people on its list.

            The reason for that last, political scientist Vitaly Arkov says, is that Ilyumzhinov remains extremely popular and United Russia in Kalmykia “is not in the best form.” It is rent by conflicts among clans, a situation that has been exacerbated by the presence in the ruling party of “influential figures.” To win vote, United Russia needs to have pro-Ilyumzhinov candidates.

            Indeed, Ilyumzhinov himself might be willing to head that list.  During an interview with the local television channel, he mentioned the situation of former Chukotka governor Roman Abramovich, who after leaving that post, ran for parliament and then became its head, a possible indication of his itnentions.

            “Judging from everything,” Aleksandr Strizoye, another political anayst. suggests, “Kirsam Ilyumzhinov is ready” to follow the same course in Kalmykia.  The Kremlin may even be willing to back such an arrangement and thus, from its point of view, “secure its full control” over the popular politician.

            Yet another analyst, Valdimir Pavlov, drew the obvious conclusion: “If Ilyumzhinov became a deputy and speaker [of the parliament], then this in fact will mark the transformation of Kalmykia from a presidential republic into a parliamentary one.” That would in turn mean that the power of the current republic head, Aleksey Orlov, would be seriously weakened.

            That outcome, however difficult it might be to arrange anywhere else, is certain to be watched by the leaders of the Russian Federation’s 83 subject territories as a way of pushing to the side governors whom the Kremlin won’t remove and of gaining the legitimacy that only elections can give.

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