Key West, February 9 – President Dmitry Medvedev’s naming of Magomedsalam Magomedov to be Mukhu Alyev’s successor as president of Daghestan is certain to prove fateful for that troubled North Caucasus republic and could ultimately lead Moscow to restore elections for the heads of federal subjects in order to avoid having to take responsibility for everything.
In Daghestan itself, the selection of Magomedov is likely to have two inter-related consequences. On the one hand, it may presage a return to the Lebanon-style allocation of government positions on ethnic lines Magomedov’s father successfully used to keep the republic relatively calm when other republics in the region were descending into violence.
And on the other, because supporters of the losing candidates, many of whom have already used violence as an electoral tool, may not soon be prepared to accept Moscow’s decision, there is a very real possibility that instability in Daghestan could get a great deal worse, possibly forcing the Russian government either to intervene more massively – or admit defeat.
Magomedsalam Magomedov, 45, is no stranger to Daghestani politics. Although he has been a professor at Daghestan State University since 1991, he is best known as the son of Magomed Magomedov who for many years was a leading official in Makhachkala even though he never was president (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/165205/).
Magomedov senior headed the republic council of ministers in Soviet times, then from 1990 to 1994, he was chairman of the presidium of the republic Supreme Soviet, and from 1994 to 2006, he headed the State Council in which ethnic representation was set according to a formula that allowed most of the ethnic groups in the republic to be assured of a set at the table.
That system of ethnic representation and collegiality was destroyed by then Russian President Vladimir Putin who in the name of majoritarian democracy and the construction of the power vertical introduced the Daghestani presidency, provoking a violent response by groups who lacked the numbers to ensure in competitive elections that they would be represented.
In a commentary on Medvedev’s selection of Magomedov posted online today, Sergey Markedonov, one of Moscow’s most thoughtful observers of the North Caucasus, stresses the links between Magomedov senior who was able to manage Daghestan and Magomedov junior who faces an unstable, even explosive situation (www.politcom.ru/print.php?id=9572).
As Markedonov points out, Magomedov senior “was able to play the role of mediator among various centers of power in Daghestan at a not very simple period of its history – two Chechen campaigns and the appearance in the Kadar zone of ‘a special Islamic territory,’” something Mukhu Aliyev as president failed to do.
“Unlike in Chechnya or Ingushetia,” the Moscow analyst says, “’a power vertical’ is impossible in Daghestan. There are too many [competing and] intersecting interests not only ethnic but also many others including shadow business, the religious problem, and competition between local and influential ‘Moscow’ Daghestanis.”
Obviously, Mukhu Aliyev could not cope with this challenge, Markedonov continues, but does Moscow have any reason to believe that Magomedov junior will do any better? Given his father’s demographic and undoubted political skills, it is reasonable to assume that Magomedov junior will fail unless something dramatic happens.
“The drawing out of the procedure for naming [a new Daghestani president]” shows how difficult a task any new president there will face, Markedonov says. But it shows something more: Daghestan, “perhaps more than any other subject shows the serious shortcomings of the system of appointing heads of regions that exists at present.”
The extraordinary range and diversity of interests involved in a place like Daghestan “does not allow [the powers that be] with the help of non-public mechanisms to take all of them into consideration in an adequate way,” Markedonov points out, whereas “elections would allow the Kremlin” greater flexibility and at the very least the ability to avoid responsibility.
In the short term, Magomedov almost certainly will try to calm the situation by including representatives of a greater variety of ethnic and religious groups in his government and possibly by moving back to the system that his father used so successfully for so long to keep the peace in Daghestan.
But in the longer term, especially if the violence continues or if Magomedov junior cannot copy the approach of his father for whatever reason, then his failure to get control of Daghestan could lead to more radical changes in the Russian political system, ranging from a return to electoral politics in the federal subjects to greater repression from Moscow.