Staunton, November 2 – The relative quiet in which most Daghestani municipal elections last month took place was less the result of improved work by election officials than by the absence of competition in many constituencies, an absence that United Russia officials and other incumbents worked hard to ensure, according to a Makhachkala observer.
Musa Musayev says in an article posted on a Moscow State University site today that Daghestanis “did not want to vote for the current bureaucrats” but had little choice in many places because officials had used their influence to dissuade people from running against them or even refused to register those who tried (www.ia-centr.ru/expert/9254/).
In those places where “real competition continued to exist,” he continues, “the voting passed with the traditional collection of violations of the law, including murders.” This time, Musayev says, the incumbent head of the village of Khadzhalmakhi Abudmuslim Nurmagormedov was killed and six others there wounded in an election clash.
Last year, competition in the elections in that village led the backers of one candidate to block a major road, forcing officials to delay a vote altogether. When it finally occurred, ther was another tragedy: People there found out about massive fraud, with more than 4,000 ballots disappearing and the closure of two of the precinct voting places on that election day itself.
But the most serious violence a year ago was in Derbent, where there were “mass disorders and the closing of many voting places.” To prevent that, Vladimir Churov, the head of the Russian Central Election Commission, came to Daghestan. This year, the vote in that southern Daghestani city was peaceful – because, Musayev says, “there was no competition.”
There were violations of election law almost everywhere there were multiple candidates for any position, with officials using “administrative” measures and open fraud including destroying ballots and ballot box stuffing to ensure that the “correct” candidate won, a trend that the Makhachkala observer says is quit dangerous.
Those steps may have bought peace now, he writes, but only at the price of highlighting the criminal behavior of many officials, something that along with “other de-stabilizing factors” in that republic have added to the potential for conflicts in what is now perhaps the most violent place in the Russian Federation.
Another Daghestani observer, Albert Esedov of the Nogay District of Daghestan concurs with Musayev’s observations, saying that official malfeasance in the electoral process is so widespread that the population doesn’t have any faith in the results and is continuing to challenge them with “massive and armed” protests (http://gazeta-nv.ru/content/view/5052/109/).
In his view, only an engaged citizenry and the presence of journalists prevented officials in his area from committing even more violations. Indeed, he said, in Daghestan now, it is possible to “rephrase Comrade Stalin’s observation” and say that “it is not important who votes in what way, it is important WHO counts those votes.”
If citizen observers or journalists are present, officials naturally find it more difficult to falsify the results, Esedov says. But he makes that observation without the self-confident optimism that one might expect. Instead, the Daghestani journalist suggests, officials there have “still not learned” how to falsify things if someone is watching, but they may soon learn how to.
Such a level of cynicism means that the victories in which United Russia and its leadership put so much stock do not mean all that much or more precisely they do not mean what the members of that party hope for. Instead, the extreme manipulation of elections has deprived the outcomes of legitimacy.
And that in turn has cost the officials there and in Moscow their legitimacy in the eyes of Daghestanis, a development that makes it more rather than less likely that the residents of that republic will listen to militants who argue that they and not the current powers that be are the real representatives of the population.