The conclusions of the MHG monitoring missions to the Chechen Republic before, during and after the elections, made possible through the financial support of the Human Rights House Network, are indeed worrying, not only for the situation in the Chechen Republic, but also for future elections, both in the republics and in the Russian Federation itself, were presidential elections are scheduled for March, i. e. the month after next. The MHG experts are now concerned that an equally grotesque scenario as the one in the Chechen Republic may arise in the forthcoming Russian presidential elections.
The MHG report documents that the human rights situation has been deteriorating in the Chechen Republic over the last year, but particularly during July, August, and September, in other words in the period leading up to the elections. Comparisons with the situation prior to the constitutional referendum in March last year leave no doubt that a de facto decline in human rights standards has taken place, both within the Chechen Republic and beyond, in neighbouring republics. Particularly, there has been an evident upsurge of violence. Sweep-up operations also continued to expand into Ingushetia. Under such unacceptable human rights conditions, it came as no surprise that Kadyrov ended up being sworn in for another period. Over virtually non-existent competitors, his victory was in real terms a walk-over.
The Russian authorities´ preparations for the elections began well in advance. A census of the Chechen population in October 2002 counted 1,088,000 inhabitants, in other words almost double the actual number, which only slightly exceeds 600,000. Hence, a full year before the elections, and with reference to this census alone, both Russian and Chechen human rights defenders knew that the elections would be neither free nor fair. Then, with the events of the beginning of September 2003, whatever illusions anyone might have had left were dispelled. Originally, Kadyrov was supposed to be challenged by three alternative candidates; Aslambek Aslakhanov, deputy of the State Duma of the Chechen Republic and Malik Saidullaev and Khussein Dzhaibrailov, both Chechen, Moscow-based businessmen. According to MHG surveys run in the Chechen Republic and Ingushetia in August and September, people were ready to vote for these three, believing they stood a good change of beating Kadyrov, who was already hated for his brutality and arbitrariness. Then, as the elections came closer, all three came under pressure from the Russian President Vladimir Putin´s Office to withdraw their candidatures and quit the race. W ith no opposition candidates given a real chance to take part in the campaign or the elections, the approximately 20 % of Chechens in favour of independence were basically cut off from the entire electoral process.
On October 5 2003, three groups of watch-dogs from the MHG were on duty in the Chechen Republic, visiting polling stations in the city of Grozny, and also in the Shali, Samashki, Achkhoy-Martan, Valerik, Gekhi, Urus-Martan, Tolstoy-Yurt districts. All the monitors reported that the turn-out was heavily inflated through major falsifications. On the day before and on election day itself, the city of Grozny was deserted. The absence of people in the streets was striking. Interviews with the occasional passer-by and trader at the open-air markets indicated that most people had actually left the city and, if they could, also the republicc, out of fear of vioence and terrorist attacks. “There is no one to vote for and no need to vote – the decision has already been made in Kremlin,” was the almost unanimous comment.
When visiting numerous polling stations on election day for up tp 8-9 hours on end, the monitors found the real ´phenomenon;´ namely never more than 2-3 voters at one station at a time. However, even the preliminary turn-out assessment was quite high – in average, 30% for 1.30 p.m. When asked to explain how the apparent discrepancy between the allegedly very high turn-out and the actual absence of voters, the heads of the district election commissions typically replied that the voters “had been here just an hour ago” or “will come later”. At two polling stations in Grozny, the protocols actually showed that all voters, without a single exception, had voted for Kadyrov. The fact that not a single ballot was marked incorrectly or ruined only made the protocols for these stations more unlikely.
It was also quite indicative that according to official data, out of the approximately 100,000 internally displaced people (IDP) residing in Ingushetia, only 1,240 cast their votes. However, according to the monitoring of the “Memorial” Human Rights Center and the Chechen Committee for National Salvation, only 40 IDPs took part in the voting. People not only felt that their participation was of no use, but also feared for their own safety, had they voted.
Reflecting on the Chechen election results, the executive director of the Moscow Helsinki Group Tanya Lokshina wonders what kind of stability the Moscow achieved by endorsing Kadyrov as the president. The political line of the “new” Chechen President is quite obvious. And, considering the growth of Kadyrov´s personal guard, famous for its brutality, it is clear that Kadyrov´s promises of taking a strong hold on the republic will be brought to reality. For the foreseeable future, no peace can be expected in the Chechen Republic. Instead of stabilizing the situation, the elections became a major security threat and a severe blow to the struggle for peace and democracy, not only in the Chechen Republic, but in the entire region.