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11 Oct, 2009 22:42

First post-Soviet local elections held in Chechnya

Among other Russian regions, polling stations have closed in Chechnya where people have cast ballots in municipal elections for the first time since the Soviet era. Voter turnout is reported at over 80 per cent.

Local elections have been held across Russia on Sunday.

Election day in the Chechen Republic proved to be peaceful and the Election Committee has not yet reported any violations.

With the ten-year counter-terror operation in the region at an end, the election is seen as crucial for the region's development.

Four parties – the United Russia, Just Russia, Liberal Democrats, and Communist Party – were competing in local elections. 431 polling stations opened their doors on Sunday morning for the republic’s electorate – 576,493 people – to cast their ballots.

The voters were electing the heads of cities and villages along with deputies to the representative bodies of the municipalities – 2,800 people. In addition, citizens of the capital Grozny were choosing a mayor.

With 60 % of the candidates under 30 years old, this election has a youthful face.

“I think that’s right, though the young will most probably have no experience. But they’ll gain it with time,” said Magomed Kurbanov, a local resident. “Everything is ahead for them. I think I would have managed too, if I were a candidate.”

It’s nearly six months since the ten year long counter-terrorism mission was stopped in Chechnya. However, sporadic violence continues.

On Friday, two days ahead of the elections, militants attacked policemen using grenade launchers and a remote control device. One officer was killed and 15 people injured. It’s the kind of incident which means police will remain on high alert.

“We work day and night,” said Ruslan Alkhanov, Chechen Interior Minister. “From October 6, personnel are on duty for the protection of public order and the voting stations are under 24-hour security. We are on alert. Our work is prevention.'"

The republic’s President, Ramzan Kadyrov, has recently suggested to Dmitry Medvedev that all Chechen women imprisoned during the anti-terror campaigns be released. That wouldn’t apply, though, to those jailed for terrorism.

“If a Chechen woman is in jail, this is insulting for me and for the Chechen nation,” Kadyrov said. “I am sure they broke the law either by ignorance or because they had no choice. We had a war, and they were feeding their families. Anyway they committed a crime.”

Since 2002, the federal government has invested billions of dollars in the republic. And Grozny has even received a UN award for its post-conflict reconstruction.

However, there is one final step in Chechnya’s rehabilitation, as the municipal elections are seen as a vital part of that process.

According to Salavdi Dzhamilev, Deputy Mayor of Grozny, “This election terminates the process of forming all the levels and branches of power in the Chechen Republic”.

“In other words, the Chechen Republic becomes a full-fledged subject of the Russian Federation and joins its legal environment. It’s important for us,” he said.