A Drive For Votes Ends in Suicide

Almira Yamaletdinova said she wasn't sure why her husband hanged himself on the eve of the State Duma elections.

But many relatives and friends are convinced that he folded under the pressure of United Russia's campaign to win the vote by a landslide.

Flur Yamaletdinov, 48, the mayor of the village of Baitally in Bashkortostan, committed suicide Saturday after learning that he faced possible dismissal for failing to carry out orders to help United Russia's bid, two villagers said by telephone Wednesday.

"Flur was too rigorous about following orders from his bosses, and this was probably the reason he preferred death to disobedience," said Ilfir Kutdusov, a friend who had known Yamaletdinov for 20 years.

Yamaletdinov's troubles started during Duma campaigning, when Sergei Kasatkin, head of the town of Kushnarenkovo and the surrounding district, which includes Baitally, publicly promised to collect 80 percent to 90 percent of the local vote for United Russia.

Last week, Kasatkin told Yamaletdinov that he faced dismissal for not properly preparing his village for the elections, said Kutdusov, citing a relative of Yamaletdinov.

The account was confirmed by Madrill Gafurov, the editor of the opposition newspaper Eurasian Prospect, who said one of his friends had overheard the encounter. Kasatkin scolded the mayor for not confiscating all copies of Eurasian Prospect in the village, Gafurov said.

Officials in Kasatkin's office said Kasatkin was traveling around the district on Tuesday and Wednesday and was unavailable for comment. They declined to discuss Yamaletdinov's death.

Bashkortostan is the only region in the country where mayors like Kasatkin are appointed and dismissed by the region's leader rather than by popular vote, said Robert Zagreyev, head of the local branch of the Garry Kasparov's United Civil Front opposition movement. Kasatkin, in turn, has the power to fire mayors of villages in his district.

Zagreyev said the practice had led to abuse of authority and neglect of rights. "This can be seen the most during the election season," he said.

Yamaletdinov came home late on Friday, and he and his wife stayed up talking until 2 a.m., his wife said by telephone. She declined to say what they discussed. She said she woke up alone in bed at 6 a.m. She found her husband's body hanging in a barn on their property.

Yamaletdinov has two daughters, who study in the regional capital, Ufa.

His death has sent the village of 400 people reeling. "We all were shocked by his death," said Guzel Nurmukhametova, a neighbor.

Many villagers reached by phone Wednesday refused to discuss the death. Gafurov, the editor, said people in Bashkortostan, and especially in the villages, felt intimidated by local authorities and do not like to speak to reporters for fear of reprisal.

It was unclear whether prosecutors might open an investigation into the death. It is a criminal offense to drive somebody to suicide, punishable by up to five years in prison, and a St. Petersburg teacher was charged with such a crime last year after a 14-year-old student threw himself under a speeding train.

Bashkortostan prosecutors could not be reached for comment after office hours Wednesday.

The head of Bashkortostan's branch of United Russia, Ismail Gabitov, expressed doubt the campaign had played a role in the death and said he was unaware of any conflict between Yamaletdinov and the district administration.

"Our elections took place very smoothly. They were like a feast for the people," he said.

Bashkortostan's election committee reported that 83.2 percent of all votes cast in the republic went to United Russia, with the rate nearing 90 percent in some districts. Countrywide, United Russia won 64.1 percent.

Election observers have criticized the vote as unfair, in part because of advantages enjoyed by United Russia, which had the support of President Vladimir Putin and many regional and municipal leaders. Voters have complained of being pressured by their employers to vote for the party at risk of losing their jobs or being passed over for promotions.

This is no consolation for some Baitally villagers.

"For [the local authorities], the elections were more important than people," said a relative of Yamaletdinov, who asked for anonymity, citing fear for her safety. "They did not even let us hold a funeral on election day. So we buried him on Dec. 1."