Regional election commission chairman Abdul-Kerim Arsakhanov told reporters in Chechnya’s capital of Grozny Monday that with more than 77 percent of the ballots counted, acting President Kadyrov had 81.1 percent of the vote. There were six other candidates on the ballot.
Arsakhanov reported that some 85 percent of the 561,000 eligible Chechen voters cast ballots. The minimum turnout for a valid election had been set at 30 percent.
Media reports characterized Sunday’s election as widely peaceful with some isolated reports of gunfire at polling stations Saturday night, despite fears that Chechen separatist fighters would attempt to disrupt what they considered to be an invalid election.
The presidential poll, a critical part of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s plan to restore Chechnya to normalcy and peace, appears to be sparking few hopes for a vigorous political renewal in the small republic torn by internal violence and a decade-old battle for independence from Moscow.
Kadyrov’s key competitors for Chechnya’s top job slowly dropped out of the presidential race in the run up to the election, citing technical problems with their candidacy or the lure of jobs in Putin’s administration, leading many regional observers and the press to question the election’s legitimacy.
“Hope is always the last thing to go. So we still hope things will get better,” Chechen voter Timur Daudov told Reuters. Asked why he voted for Kadyrov, Daudov told the news service: “From two evils you choose the one that is slightly better.”
Kadyrov voted in his hometown of Tsentoroi Sunday and told reporters afterward that he “has never been anybody’s puppet.”
“If I’m elected, I will be a legitimately elected leader of the republic, and, on behalf of my people, I will be able to make demands and requests,” Kadyrov said, according to an account of his comments in the Los Angeles Times.
“We already have peace in Chechnya, and it’s getting stronger and stronger by the day,” he added. “People are sick and tired of [this war]. These elections are the last hope for them. We must live up to people’s expectations. If we betray those people again, we will be condemned.”
Speaking to state television Monday outside his home, Kadyrov said he felt “an enormous burden of responsibility for the republic and for the people who trusted me.”
Kadyrov, a former Islamic cleric, fought for the separatist movement during the first Chechen war in the mid-1990s. He was appointed by Putin in 2000 to head the local pro-Moscow administration and has been the apparent target of at least one of the suicide bombings to rock the region in recent months.
In an interview with The New York Times on the eve of the election, Putin said he hoped that Kadyrov’s past with the separatist movement would ultimately work to some advantage.
“I precisely hope … that his contacts with those people who are still resisting us in Chechnya, that his contacts with these people and influence on them will be positive,” said Putin.
“I must say that we do not work with Kadyrov alone, and our work on political settlement is not limited just to the presidential election process,” the Russian leader added.
Putin praised the high voter turnout at a Monday Cabinet meeting saying, “the very fact of such a high turnout shows that people have hope — hope for a better life, for positive changes in the life of the republic.”
Regional observers speculated during the lead up to the poll that the election of the largely unpopular Kadyrov was unlikely to lead to increased stability in a republic ravaged by years of war and security problems.
“Chechnya is under Kadyrov’s full control, and he has demonstrated that he can do whatever he wants,” Nikolai Petrov, an expert with the Carnegie Endowment in Moscow, told the Christian Science Monitor ahead of the vote. “No elections are going to change that fact.”
Kadyrov is said to have an armed security force manned with as many as 4,000 officers, which has been accused of being a source of intimidation in the region.
Separatist leader and ousted Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov denounced the election as “a criminal action by the occupation forces” that was “doomed to failure” on a pro-rebel Web site, according to the Associated Press.
Security was extremely tight during Sunday’s voting, with thousands of police officers and soldiers deployed to guard the republic’s over 400 polling stations, which were equipped with alarm systems, mine detectors and other devices.
International observers, such as the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, declined to send monitors to the election, citing the tenuous internal security situation.
Russian authorities did their best to promote Sunday’s vote as a positive move, with reports of festive dinners at some polling places. One organization pledged that any Chechen woman who gave birth to a baby boy on Sunday would receive 10,000 rubles ($300 USD), according to media reports.
With the presidential election complete, Stanislav Ilyasov, Russia’s minister for Chechen affairs, said Monday that Russian and Chechen officials would sign a treaty outlining the regional administration’s authorities by the end of the year, according to the Itar-Tass news agency.
Chechnya “will engage in the rehabilitation of its facilities on its own and manage its own resources,” Ilyasov was quoted as saying.