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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chechens, OSCE Call for Election Postponement

As the last brigades of Russian troops in Chechnya began their pullout from the war-torn republic, Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev called for a postponement of elections for the president and legislature, slated for Jan. 27.

In a written statement delivered to the Chechen parliament Monday, Yandarbiyev said delay would enable better organization of the election process.

There were signs that the preparations for the ballot were not proceeding smoothly. At a Saturday conference expected to decide on a presidential candidate from the separatist side, the delegates failed to agree on a single name.

Yandarbiyev is himself one of three men in the running. Another is Aslan Maskhadov, prime minister of the current Chechen coalition government and the former leader of the separatists' armed forces. The third is Shamil Basayev, one of the most prominent Chechen field commanders and leader of the hostage-taking incident in Budyonnovsk in 1995.

The date of the elections will stand unless Chechnya's central election commission decides otherwise. The commission, which has sole responsibility for setting the date of the poll, has yet to vote on Yandarbiyev's initiative.

The proposal comes on the same day that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE, underlined the importance of the planned elections on the way to a peaceful settlement in the war-ravaged republic.

"I think that this next step will be decisive," said Tim Guldimann, head of the OSCE mission in Chechnya, speaking at a press conference in Moscow. "I think that if the elections are successful -- that is democratic, free and fair -- then we can definitely say there will be a basis for going further. There is no alternative to a peaceful settlement."

But a number of problems with the elections remain, he added. One is the short time available to organize them and the shortage of funds. Another is the problem of crime. "In a society which has just been at war, it is difficult to guarantee the conditions for democratic elections," said Guldimann.

There are also a number sticky legal questions to be resolved. While there is agreement that all the population of Chechnya should be eligible to vote, it must be decided whether refugees will be able to vote in their current places of residence and, if so, how this voting would be carried out. The OSCE may send observers for the elections, said Guldimann, pointing out that assisting the democratic process is part of the OSCE mandate in Chechnya.

Guldimann praised the Russian government for its new approach, which, he said, "is very constructive and pragmatic for a peaceful settlement."

In particular he noted President Boris Yeltsin's recent decree that the last federal troops remaining in Chechnya be withdrawn and last month's meeting between Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and the Chechen Prime Minister Aslan Maskhadov, which sets up a framework for future agreements.

Human rights advocate Sergei Kovalyov also argued for a delay. He said haste might make a farce of the elections, Agence France Presse reported.

Kovalyov echoed Guldimann's concerns over the approximately 400,000 refugees who, while physically removed from Chechnya, would still be eligible to vote. There was simply not enough time to organize absentee voting for these people, Kovalyov said, or even to draw up voter lists of those who remain.