UNPO Mission Monitors Elections in the Chechen Republic
On January 27, 1997 the people of the Chechen Republic Ichkeria went to the polls to vote in both parliamentary and presidential elections. The elections, which were held in accordance with the terms of the agreements reached between the Chechen Republic Ichkeria and the Russian Federation on 31 August 1996, are of great importance to the promotion of peace and democracy in the region.
The UNPO General Secretary sent a Mission to monitor the elections at the request of the President of the Chechen Republic Ichkeria in order to observe the election process. The Mission consisted of 11 persons including Mr. Erkin Alptekin (UNPO General Assembly Chairman), Dr. Linnart Mll (UNPO Assistant General Secretary for Eastern Europe), Mr. Menelaos Tzelios (UNPO Assistant General Secretary for United Nations Affairs), His Imperial Highness Karl von Habsburg (Member of the European Parliament), Mr. Atner Khusangai (Chuvash National Congress), Mr. Gennadiy Verblyudov (Chechen National Congress), Prince Peter Volkonski and Mr. Artur Talvik (Estonia).
To effectively observe and monitor the January 27 elections, the Mission met with leading candidates including the President of the Chechen Republic Ichkeria Zemlikhan Yanderbiev, Commander in Chief and presidential candidate Aslan Maskhadov, presidential candidate Shamil Basaev, and the Chairman of the Election Committee. The Mission monitored the vote in all parts of the Republic by visiting 29 polling stations and observing the counting of the votes throughout the night. The Mission also maintained consistent contact with other observer missions, local and foreign media representatives.
The Mission concluded that although the elections were conducted under very difficult circumstances, the election procedure met international standards and the vote expressed the will of the people of the Chechen Republic Ichkeria. The Mission explained that the greatest difficulties encountered in the election process were due to the complications inherent in establishing a comprehensive list of voters between 4 December 1996 and the day of the elections due to the large number of refugees and displaced persons. The layout of the ballot sheet led to some confusion and a disproportionate number of invalid votes. The Mission found that despite the difficulties, the flexibility and goodwill of all parties concerned led to a smooth conduct of both parliamentary and presidential elections.
Following the election victory of Aslan Maskhadov, UNPO General Secretary Dr. van Walt van Praag called on Russia and the international community to recognize and respect the will of the Chechen people.
"Now that the people have expressed their will through democratic means, it is time for Russia and the democratic countries of the world to respect the desire of the people for independence", stated the UNPO General Secretary.
In a letter to President Maskhadov, UNPO offered its continued assistance to the Chechen government in the search for a negotiated solution to the conflict with Russia. Commenting on the election results, the UNPO General Secretary said,"to allow Russia now to impose its will without regard for the wishes of the Chechen people would be to make a mockery of democracy and could lead to renewed fighting".