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Swiss observer fears rigged election in Chechnya

Chechens cast their votes in the October 2003 presidential election

(Keystone)

The people of Chechnya are voting for a new president on Sunday, in an election which observers fear will be neither free nor fair.

Swiss parliamentarian Andreas Gross, who is representing the Council of Europe in Chechnya, says only the Kremlin's candidate has a realistic chance of winning.

Gross has made regular visits to the troubled southern Russian republic over the past few years on behalf of the Council of Europe.

He will be in Chechnya this weekend, leading a delegation investigating the humanitarian and political situation there.

Gross says that although seven candidates are standing, victory for the Kremlin's man is likely to be a foregone conclusion.

Russian political observers agree. They say Moscow’s favoured candidate, Alu Alkhanov, will be the clear winner in the presidential poll, and could match the 81 per cent of the vote achieved by the previous incumbent, Akhmad Kadyrov.

Kadyrov was assassinated in May. Many believe he was helped to power by the Kremlin in a rigged election.

“Farce”

“I can foresee that this election will degenerate into a farce,” Gross told swissinfo. But he warned against taking a black-and-white view of the situation.

“Of course we can say that this is not a real election, but a simple statement like that does not help find solutions to the problem,” he said.

“The situation is extremely complex,” the Zurich parliamentarian explained. “Apart from political issues, economic, military and cultural factors are also at play.”

Gross will be compiling a report which the Council of Europe is expected to discuss in October.

“The aim is to give a detailed overview of the situation and so lay the groundwork for working out solutions,” he said.

Talks planned

The Council of Europe delegation will also use the trip to hold talks with officials as well as representatives from non-governmental organisations.

A meeting has already been scheduled with Chechnya’s acting president, Sergei Abramov.

Gross said that it was also important to meet ordinary voters in Chechnya, but admitted that finding people to talk to could be a challenge.

“Many people are afraid of what will happen to them after they have had discussions like this,” he said.

“And this reveals something about the elections themselves, because elections are simply not elections if people are afraid to express their opinion.”

swissinfo, Alexandra Stark in Moscow

In brief

Seven candidates are competing in Sunday's presidential elections in the southern Russian republic of Chechnya.

Russian political observers believe that Moscow’s favoured candidate, Alu Alkhanov, will win outright.

The previous incumbent, Akhmad Kadyrov, was assassinated in May.

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