Vienna, December 4 – A court in the Daghestani city of Derbent has annulled the results of the October 11 mayoral elections there because of what observers have called “scandals unprecedented for Russia.” That action thus deprives the United Russia candidate of victory and possibly sets the stage for more legal challenges to elections elsewhere in the country.
As “Kommersant” reports today, the court found that only 23 of the 36 polling stations were open for the vote and that officials had blocked both opposition poll waters and even law enforcement personnel from entering the stations that were open. As a result, it vacated the victory incumbent had claimed (www.kommersant.ru/doc.aspx?DocsID=1285797).
The court’s decision represents a victory for Imam Yarliyev, the former prosecutor who had been the leading opponent of Feliks Kaziakhmedov and who had organized both public protests and an appeal to the judicial system. And there may be more to come: the court said that prosecutors there have opened eight criminal cases concerning the election.
Yarliyev for his part said that “from the very beginning we have asserted that the powers that be of Daghestan have illegally interfered in the course of elections in Derbent and permitted massive violations of the electoral rights of the citizens.” He said that the court has fully vindicated his position.
Political scientist Aleksandr Kynyev told the Moscow paper that the decision of the court was both “symbolic and unprecedented.” Elections in the North Caucasus, he noted, have never been free of violations. But in this case, they were so gross that the courts had to intervene even though that meant depriving a United Russia candidate of victory.
(In fact, as “Kommersant” points out, there have been cases where the results of elections have been vacated by the courts before. In 1998, for example, the mayor election outcome in Nizhny Novgorod was set aside, and since 2003, the courts in Sergiyev Posad, where the Moscow Patriarchate has its offices, have annulled three results.)
But this victory for electoral honesty and transparency may not last. The Derbent prosecutor, who is part of Kaziakhmedov’s regime, says he will seek a reversal in the Russian Supreme Court, and until that appeal is heard, the authorities will not schedule new elections. Moreover, the Central Election Commission in Moscow has not taken a position on the case.
“Kommersant” suggests that the Derbent decision may be linked to “the future fate of the head of the republic Mukhu Aliyev,” who is seeking an additional term but who has many opponents both in Makhachkala and Moscow. Kynyev was among those arguing that the court’s decision was “a political defeat” for the incumbent Daghestani president.
But even if the Derbent decision is first and foremost a move against Aliyev, this case could have a far larger impact: Given the anger about the elections elsewhere – and especially in Moscow where Mayor Yury Luzhkov’s regime succeeded in freezing out most of the opposition – other groups may now turn to the courts.
At least some Russian judges might support such appeals and thereby fulfill one of the preconditions for a so-called “color revolution” at least at the local level in Russia – an electoral outcome sufficiently cloudy that it is credible for the opposition to claim the will of the people was ignored.
And that possibility, one that is certainly on the minds of political technologists in Moscow, means that the Derbent case could ultimately cast a far larger shadow over the future of the current Russian political system than just on the fates of two relatively minor officials, Feliks Kaziakhmedov and Mukhu Aliyev.