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A Parliament Built for Kadyrov

APA woman fixing an election poster for Khozh-Akhmed Khaladov, a candidate from Grozny, to a wall on Thursday.
The new Chechen parliament, which will be elected Sunday, looks likely to be packed with allies of powerful Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, and their main mandate promises to be to prepare the way for a Kadyrov presidency.

Other local clans and interest groups can expect to be shut out from making any major decisions in the parliament, and ordinary Chechens probably should not count on lawmakers to protect their interests.

"The lawmakers will not be allowed to lobby for any interests but Kadyrov's," said Alexander Cherkasov, a representative of Memorial, the respected human rights organization that has been sharply critical of both Kadyrov and the elections.

"With or without the parliament, Chechnya will still be ruled by the man who wields the biggest gun," he added, referring to Kadyrov.

Eight national parties are running in the elections, and many hastily set up their Chechen branches within the past two months with the backing of Chechen officials. Kadyrov loyalists have taken key posts in many of those branches. In addition, most of the top spots on the parties' electoral lists -- including those of United Russia -- are occupied by regional officials.

A ninth party, the liberal Republican Party, also applied but was rejected over a technicality. Its candidates are running in single-mandate districts.

A recent poll by Chechen authorities found that the pro-Kremlin United Russia party would win the largest share of the vote, with 35 percent, followed by the liberal Yabloko party (10 percent), the Communist Party (10 percent), the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party (6 percent), the nationalist Rodina party (4.2 percent) and the liberal Union of Right Forces party (3.2 percent). The other parties received support from 1 percent or less of the 1,000 respondents surveyed by Chechnya's National Politics, Media and Information Ministry, the independent newspaper Chechen Society reported earlier this week.

Parties must garner at least 5 percent to win seats.

A separate survey, carried out by an independent think tank, indicated that well over half of Chechens believed that Kadyrov would personally determine the outcome of the elections and that the parliament's main task would be to select the republic's next president -- not to tackle pressing regional problems.

A total of 72 percent said Kadyrov would decide the vote, while 9 percent said President Vladimir Putin would determine it, 2 percent said Chechen President Alu Alkhanov would be behind it, and 2 percent said voters would decide, according to the poll of 1,000 people in Chechnya and 200 people in Chechen diasporas in Ingushetia, Moscow and other regions. The poll was carried out by Chechen-based SK-Strategia in October.

Only 8 percent of respondents said the vote would be honest, while 68 percent said it would be fraudulent.

Furthermore, 51 percent said the parliament would not solve pressing problems, while 24 percent said it would. An overwhelming 60 percent said the parliament was needed to approve the candidacy of the next Chechen president.

Since the start of the year, regional leaders are no longer elected but appointed by Putin and then formally confirmed by regional legislatures.

Kadyrov, a son of pro-Moscow Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov, who was assassinated last year, is largely believed to be the real power in Chechen politics, and he appears to be in line to become president after he turns 30 on Oct. 5 next year. Under the Chechen Constitution, the president must be at least 30 years old.

Kadyrov leads a paramilitary force of 5,000 men, many of them former rebels, that human rights groups have often accused of brutality and arbitrariness toward ordinary Chechens.

Kadyrov is currently filling in as the head of the Chechen Cabinet, after Prime Minister Sergei Abramov was hospitalized with serious injuries following a traffic accident in Moscow last week. Abramov's aides say the accident did not appear to be an assassination attempt.

Kadyrov needs the new parliament to legitimize his power in the republic, said Nikolai Silayev, a researcher with the Center for Caucasus Studies at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations.

"Chechnya needs quality regional institutions and not imitations that cannot adequately represent social-interest groups," he said.

The new parliament also promises to be a key tool in any negotiations between Kadyrov and Moscow over what powers he might be afforded. Kadyrov, for instance, could use the parliament to back up his claims over Chechen oil, which is now controlled by state companies, said Alexei Makarkin, an analyst with the Center for Political Technologies.

The parliament, however, could also help to decrease violence by federal troops in the republic, he said. "Imagine that instead of informal disunited groups in Chechnya calling for investigations into brutal abuses of civilians by Russian soldiers, the parliament would come out with a formal demand," he said. "Russian officials would not ignore such a demand easily."

Nikolai Petrov, an analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Center, cautioned that the Kremlin would increase its dependence on Kadyrov's whims by allowing him to form the parliament.

"Kadyrov shows loyalty only to Putin himself and often ignores the rules and other players," Petrov said.

He said the Kremlin risked finding itself stuck with Kadyrov and being unable to replace him with someone better-suited to lead recovery and development efforts in Chechnya.

Still, Petrov said, the elections are a small but positive step. "Traditionally, parliaments in Chechnya began as 'pocket' institutions of the regional leader, but eventually they became more autonomous and critical bodies," he said.

Also, electing the parliament will shift Chechnya's management model to one that is more formal and resembles normal rule, rather than the emergency rule that is currently in place, he said.

The Kremlin has touted the elections as a key step toward returning normalcy to Chechnya.

No major rebel attacks have been reported from Chechnya in the weeks ahead of the elections.

On Wednesday, Memorial, the International Helsinki Federation, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee and the Moscow-based Demos human rights watchdog warned that the elections would be far from fair.

"The unending violence in Chechnya leaves no chance for the upcoming elections to be free and fair," the groups said in a report presented in Moscow, Interfax reported.

Memorial and Demos leaders urged authorities to follow the lead of Northern Ireland to allow separatists who reject violence to form political parties and participate in politics.

About 23,000 people will monitor the elections, Chechen elections chief Ismail Baikhanov said in interview published Thursday in Nezavisimaya Gazeta. "These include representatives from the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and many other public organizations. Moreover, a big number of foreign reporters will come," he said.

The State Duma and Federation Council are also sending monitors, and pro-Putin youth movement Nashi announced earlier this week that it would send 20 monitors.

Leading Russian human rights organizations have refused to send observers, as have the European Union and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. The Council of Europe, the continent's leading human rights watchdog, will send a small fact-finding team but will not officially monitor the vote.

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