Thursday, April 23, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Daghestani President Seeks to Stabilize His Republic by Reversing Putin Policy

Paul Goble

Vienna, April 23 – In order to prevent the situation in his North Caucasus republic from spinning out of control, Mukhu Aliyev, the president of Daghestan, is preparing amendments to the election law that will reverse Vladimir Putin’s plans and allow Makhachkala to allocate positions in the government according to a system of ethnic quotas.
For most of Soviet and post-Soviet times, Moscow permitted Daghestan to reserve particular positions in that republic’s executive and legislative branches for representatives of particular ethnic groups, an arrangement that preserved balance and largely kept the peace in that most multi-ethnic of regions.
But former Russian President Vladimir Putin insisted that Daghestan follow the same rules as in other parts of the country with selections to these offices being decided by majority vote alone, a change that meant many smaller groups lost representation in and attachment to the government.
That has exacerbated ethnic tensions in Daghestan in recent years, and now President Aliyev has announced that he wants to amend Russian legislation so that his republic at least can go back to a quota system in which far more groups will be represented in thus feel a greater attachment to Makhachkala and even Moscow (
In comments to and, Aliyev noted that “there are many peoples in Daghestan, with 30 of them alone being indigenous. Four are the largest, and they have traditionally been represented in the organs of power.” That is something that those organizing the political system “must not fail to consider.”
“If [in Daghestan] the president and prime minister and the head of the parliament are members of a single nationality” – something that could happen given the radically different size of ethnic groups there if a pure majoritarian system is put in place – “there will never be stability,” Aliyev continued.
What is needed if Daghestan is to be both stable and democratic is the restoration of the pre-Putin arrangement under the terms of which, as pointed out, “Avars traditionally received the post of president, Dargins the position of parliamentary speaker, and the prime minister was a Kumyk.”
“What kind of a democracy is it if peoples who live here do not have representation in that organ whose members they supposedly choose? They will think up their own parliament,” he continued, one that will be not only separate from but opposed to the republic and federal structures.
Aliyev said that the arrangements now in place have forced him to repeatedly intervene in the electoral process in his republic, asking some people not to run for office and others to refuse the posts they were elected to, in order to preserve the ethnic balance and thus political stability as best he could.
In the future, of course, Daghestan should “depart from the nationality question in the formation of the organs of power,” summarized Aliyev’s view, “but the time for that has not yet arrived.” “National feelings just like religious ones” the Daghestan president said, “are very strong. Time and patience are needed.”
While saying that he is preparing amendments that would allow the restoration of the ethnic quota system in Daghestan, Aliyev insisted that he “wasn’t talking about a return to the past. That is impossible.” Instead, he said, he was seeking “amendments which follow the course of contemporary Russian legislation.”
It is unlikely that many in Moscow will see Aliyev’s proposals in that way, but the central government may accept them as a price it is willing to pay lest the situation in the country’s most ethnically fragmented republic spins out of control – even though other non-Russian republics are certain to raise similar demands if Moscow meets those of Makhachkala.

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