Russian liberal opposition party Yabloko has announced they will boycott upcoming local elections in Ingushetia in response a crackdown on dissent following last year’s Chechen-Ingush land deal.
Ruslan Mutsolgov, the head of the Ingush branch of Yabloko, announced the move in a statement on behalf of the party.
The elections for city councils and other local bodies in Ingushetia will be held on 8 September.
Mutsolgov said that members of Yabloko would not go to the polls and advised all residents of the republic to ‘decide for themselves […] whether they want to vote for those candidates who serve the interests of corrupt officials and not our native republic and our people.’
‘We are sure that the election results will be falsified, and we don’t want, and will not participate in it!’ said the statement.
Two events prompted the boycott, according to Mutsolgov: an extension of the pre trial detention of 65-year-old Ingush elder Akhmed Barakhoyev, who with dozens of other activists was accused of organising violence at a protest in Magas in March, as well as the refusal of the local election commission to register candidates from the party’s list.
The reason for protest was a controversial bill passed by the National Assembly of Ingushetia that redrew the border with Chechnya resulting in part of the Sunzhensky District of Ingushetia being transferred to Chechnya. A number of MPs said that the vote in the local parliament was falsified, and the Constitutional Court of Ingushetia declared the vote unconstitutional.
‘We are not going to participate in this farce’
Candidates from Yabloko planned to run in Karabulak, but the town’s territorial election commission (TEC), refused to register them. They filed a complaint to the regional election commission but were refused again. The candidates have claimed that the government is purposefully removing independent candidates from the elections and ensuring that only ‘loyal’ candidates they can control take office.
The Yabloko list also included civic activists Khasan Katsiyev and Musa Malsagov. Both are currently in pre-trial detention in accused of clashing with the National Guard on 27 March in Magas.
Experts from the Ministry of Internal Affairs claimed that some of the signatures nominating the candidates had been falsified. Ruslan Mutsolgov said that the examination of signatures by the ministry violated the law.
Mutsolgov claimed that officers from the ministry and the Federal Security Service (FSB) were present at the verification of signatures by the TEC. According to him, they did not have the right to vote at the TEC meeting, but still spoke out when the issue of refusing to register Yabloko candidates was raised.
According to Mutsolgov, an hour after filing a complaint against the TEC, he saw employees of the Center for Countering Extremism near his home. The next day, he received a written order summoning him to the Investigative Committee in Vladikavkaz, in neighbouring North Ossetia, in connection with the protests.
The local Prosecutor’s Office also announced that they would conduct an inspection of the regional branch of Yabloko.
According to Mutsolgov the candidates to be registered included those from the regional branches of the ruling United Russia party, A Just Russia, the Liberal-Democratic party, the Communist party, and several local little-known parties.
‘We are not going to participate in the farce, which, in our opinion is happening now and will continue on the voting day’, Mutsolgov told OC Media.
According to him, members of the Head of Ingushetia’s administration have put pressure on the electoral commission. He said the only question was whether Interim Head Makhmud Ali Kalimatov knew about this.
‘Either the officials act behind the back of the interim head of the republic, Makhmud Ali Kalimatov, and he does not control the situation, or he is aware and is then engaged in fraud and creating new problems’, said Mutsolgov.
According to him, the authorities had not contacted him about the boycott.
‘No examination in this world can prove that the signatures are fake’
Other candidates that attempted to run for Yabloko in the election included non-members including local activists Musa Malsagov and Angela Matiyeva.
Matiyeva told OC Media that she had been personally collecting signatures with Ruslan Mutsolgov. She said that they did not need to go door-to-door to collect enough signatures as voters came to their headquarters to sign their names themselves.
‘No examination in this world can prove that the signatures are fake. We acted absolutely honestly, neatly, openly. Everyone who signed can confirm that both the signature and date were made by their hand […] We did this work without a hitch. We have nothing to fear,’ said Matiyeva.
She also said the refusal to register them as candidates was illegal, and the decision of the election commission was politically motivated. ‘Someone instructed the TEC to treat our candidates this way’, she said.
‘After that, my associates and I decided not to participate in the elections. We are experiencing a serious political crisis when those in power are divorced from the people. Attitudes towards our candidates indicate this. The population has access to information through social networks, everyone is following the course of events’, she said.
Matiyeva noted that preparations for the election were taking place against the backdrop of a general anxiety over the fate of prisoners arrested due to the protests. She said that people had their hopes in Kalimatov.
‘People know him for an honest man. He is from a decent teip (clan), from a good family, broadly educated. But he inherited a very difficult legacy: […] the resignation of officials, the decline in healthcare, nine idle enterprises do not pay for themselves. Today’s restraint of Ingush society is a kind of support for Kalimatov — in advance’, said Matiyeva.
The Election Commission of Ingushetia provided Mutsolgov with an official response stating that their refusal to register the party’s list was because ‘the number of submitted signatures of voters, minus the number of signatures declared invalid, is insufficient to register candidates’.
The Karabulak Commission determined that the minimum number of signatures required to register a candidate was 76. Yabloko said they provided 84 and fourteen were declared invalid.
The administration of Ingush head Makhmud Ali Kalimatov did not respond to a request for comment on preparations for the election or Yabloko’s boycott.
Several Ingush officials have resigned from their posts in recent weeks, leading to the Russian President’s Permanent Representative to Ingushetia, Alikhan Tsechoyev being replaced by Adam Buzurtanov.
The first deputy chairman of the government, Bagaudin Ozdoyev, the Minister of Finance, Bekhan Ozdoyev, and the Minister of Education Yusup Kostoyev, were also dismissed. Rumours have circulated in social networks that the mayor of Magas, Beslan Tsechoyev may be the next to lose his position.