Echoes of the Election

by ChessBase
9/29/2010 – On Wednesday Kirsan Ilyumzhinov was reelected President of FIDE, which he has headed since 1995. His victory over the challenger Anatoly Karpov, backed by Garry Kasparov, was greeted with delight and dismay in the international press. Accusations of proxy vote rigging have been raised, and Karpov vows that the fight will go on. Reports and explanations.

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The Election Is Over, the Fight Goes On

September 29, 2010

In an election that confirmed the worst of our fears about the integrity of the process, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov won the vote in Khanty-Mansiysk. Considering the rampant abuses that took place there, especially with the abhorrently corrupt proxy system, it is difficult, if not impossible, to consider this a legitimate election.

No matter how Anatoly Karpov decides to continue this battle to restore and transform the chess world, he wishes to express his thanks to everyone who joined us in this effort. We promoted chess worldwide to an unprecedented degree during this campaign. We proved beyond any doubt that a vast majority of the world’s chessplayers support our agenda and our vision for the future of chess as a 21st century sport and of FIDE as a modern organization. This election also showed how it has become impossible to effect this change from within FIDE, which has long ceased to represent the federations or the chess players.

A full statement from Anatoly Karpov and the campaign will soon follow. [Source: Karpov 2010 Campaign]

Ilyumzhinov outplays Karpov in battle for FIDE presidency

Kirsan Ilyumzhinov and his rival Anatoly Karpov, the former world chess champion, waited for five hours to get the results. Such a delay was caused by poor organization – there were not enough seats for delegates and microphones were broken. The major cornerstone was the so-called "proxy-problem". Under FIDE rules, each member-state is represented by its Permanent Delegate or by another person (Proxy), accredited by a letter for such representation, when he or she is not able to attend the Congress. This time, many of the proxies received were deemed illegitimate as they had been sent via e-mail without signatures. [Full report here]

The international chess world descended into chaos and bitter accusations of cheating today with the controversial re-election of the president of the World Chess Federation, who defeated the former world chess champion Anatoly Karpov. Amid tumultuous scenes that saw delegates shout abuse at each other in an overcrowded hall, the incumbent Russian candidate, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, won the clear backing of a majority of the world's 160 chess federations. He defeated Karpov, his fellow-Russian, by 95 votes to 65.

Speaking from the scene of the vote Karpov's supporters this afternoon described the ballot as a "farce", and said Ilyumzhinov had used "intimidation, bully-boy tactics" and even "blatant corruption" to steamroller his way to victory. Karpov's wife, Natalia, speaking from Moscow today, described the result as "awful". "I haven't managed to get through to Anatoly. But his aides told me it was like fighting in enemy territory. It was very difficult to monitor the vote. The whole thing was a mess," she said.

Speaking from the Siberian city of Khanty-Mansiysk, where the ballot was held, CJ de Mooi, the president of the English Chess Federation, said: "It was unbelievable. This was a farce of a vote. "You wouldn't believe the blatant breaking of rules and FIDE's written statutes. It's amazing. There wasn't even a pretence of fairness and free speech."

De Mooi said Ilyumzhinov, FIDE's president for 15 years, had refused to allow Karpov's supporters to address FIDE's general assembly meeting. Instead, he turned off their microphones and carried on speaking himself. He also ignored legal points raised from the floor, eventually storming off stage with FIDE's ruling board, de Mooi said.

Karpov's supporters pointed to widespread irregularities in the vote, which saw up to 56 countries vote by proxy, with Zambia voting for Kenya, China for Burma, the UAE for Kuwait, and so on. They also allege that several delegates may have been improperly influenced. [Full article here]

Speaking in northern Russia after learning that he had clinched 95 votes compared to Mr Karpov's 55 votes, Mr Ilyumzhinov hailed his win. "The vote showed that the overwhelming majority of countries support my work and my uniting of the chess world," he told Ekho Moskvy radio station. "The main thing is that I have managed in the last 15 years to unite the chess world. We have one champion and one federation."

The 48-year-old chess enthusiast said he had offered Mr Karpov the vice-presidency of the federation in an attempt to draw a line under a campaign marked by vitriolic mud-slinging and legal challenges. Mr Karpov was considering the offer, he said. The Kremlin publicly backed Mr Ilyumzhinov, Russia's official candidate for the post, and strongly opposed Mr Karpov. Although it never said why, analysts said it was probably because one of Mr Karpov's most vocal backers was former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, who is a bitter critic of the Kremlin's policies.

Mr Karpov, 58, is likely to find his rival's offer hard to accept. He accused him of incompetence and corruption during the campaign and even questioned his sanity. [Full article here]

The election capped a long and nasty campaign in which both sides traded accusations and heated words. Mr. Karpov’s election chances may have been hurt by the aide of his long-time rival, Garry Kasparov, who some people might have feared would have undue influence if Mr. Karpov was elected – a fear that Mr. Ilyuzmhinov fanned on his campaign web site. Mr. Kasparov has acknowledged in the past that there are many people in the chess world who do not like him and would never vote for him if he ran for the presidency of FIDE.

The election came two days after a lawsuit by Mr. Karpov and five federations to have Mr. Ilyumzhinov’s ticket disqualified was dismissed in the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland. Mr. Ilyumzhinov, who recently announced that he was stepping down as the head of Kalmykia, a republic in southern Russia that he has run since 1993, was re-elected despite his odd public persona, which includes his assertion that he was once abducted by aliens and, most recently, that chess comes from outer space. [Full article here]

Why Ilyumzhinov Won

By David Levy

There is a wise old American saying: "You can't fight City Hall". In the case of FIDE it was tried in 1986 and failed. It was tried in 2006 and failed. It has been tried in 2010 and failed. Perhaps, some day, those idealists in the chess world who wish for regime change will learn.

Ilyumzhinov has given and continues to give huge amounts of financial support to chess, some $50 million by his own estimate since he first took office in 1995, and this makes him a very hard man to beat in a FIDE election. Despite this he certainly has his detractors, especially amongst professional players. But even if all their complaints about him were justified, and I am not suggesting for a moment that they are, the professional players represent only a tiny fraction, less than 1 per cent, of the world's competitive chess players. FIDE does not exist solely or mainly to provide this tiny minority with a living. FIDE is for every competitive chess player and therein lies one of the most obvious reasons why Karpov had virtually no chance in this election – for the vast majority of countries represented at the FIDE Congress in Khanty-Mansiysk the concerns of chess professionals are not near the top of their priority lists. Chess professionals have their own organisation – the Association of Chess Professionals – and in my view it is by attracting  sponsorship of its own that the ACP can become a strong organisation, one that is able to negotiate with FIDE over the concerns of the professionals from a more equal basis.

Ilymzhinov's election campaign exhibited very little anti-Karpov rhetoric. Where Karpov's campaign fell down badly was in its anti-Ilyumzhinov emphasis, which seemed to be employed as a substitute to make up for a lack of well-founded claims about the future financial viability and prosperity of a Karopv-led FIDE. Sure there were promises of all sorts of wonderful developments in the chess world, predicated on sponsorship that Karpov assured the electorate he would be bringing into the game. But where was the proof? Where were the multi-nationals confirming they would replace Ilyumzhinov's millions with their own financial support for FIDE? It simply wasn't there, and Karpov has absolutely no track record in the field of sponsorship.

The bottom line in all this is the bottom line in FIDE's accounts, plus the millions that Ilyumzhinov has given in order to enable many major chess events to take place, often resulting in him bailing out events whose expected financial support failed to materialize. Who would the FIDE delegates be more likely to believe is the best person to keep FIDE and many chess events on a viable financial foundation: someone with no track record in chess sponsorship, or someone who has consistently excelled in that field over the past fifteen years?

Karpov is a chess genius, a former world champion, a player who holds the record, by a big margin, for the number of tournaments won during a chess career. In many respects he would be an ideal leader for the chess professionals, since he knows just about everything relating to their collective needs and concerns. But he has no relevant administrative experience, no track record to suggest that he could successfully run an organisation the size of FIDE. Does FIDE really want its own Arnold Schwarzenegger – someone famous who lacks the experience necessary for the job and who has led California to a deficit tottering on bankruptcy? The FIDE electorate has emphatically shown that it places more trust in the man with a track record, despite the criticisms levelled against him, rather than take a leap into the unknown.

On a different point, it seems to me that Karpov's campaign team scored an own goal that just might have made a big difference to his election chances. While I am delighted to see Karpov and Kasparov on such good terms, I believe that it was a serious error to have Kasparov, the strongest chess player of all time, campaigning alongside him. Kasparov is hugely popular everywhere in the chess world and in many other forums besides, but not with the Medvedev/Putin government. He has long been striving for a different Russia, with the result that he is not exactly the Kremlin's favourite grandmaster. By allying himself so openly with Kasparov throughout his campaign, Karpov could be almost certain that the Russian government would use its influence against him. I cannot understand why he and his team did not appreciate this. If the Russian government had thrown its weight behind Karpov, who knows how the voting might have panned out.

In the final weeks of the election campaign team-Karpov resorted to desperate tactics. They brought an ill-considered legal action against Ilyumzhinov at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, attempting to have Ilyumzhinov's candidacy declared illegal. Did they seriously believe that it could be so easy to unseat the incumbent? If they had really been as confident as their announcements suggested they would most likely never have tried such a ploy. But try they did, and they were slapped in the face by the court just a day or so before the FIDE delegates had to cast their ballot papers.

So the delegates came to  Khanty-Mansiysk to vote for a president. I have been in Japan since the start of the Olympiad so I have not witnessed it first hand, but judging from photos on and elsewhere, and from comments from observers who are present, it looks like a great event, and has prompted grand-organizer Ali Nihat Yazici to proclaim that it will be a very hard act to follow when he organizes the 2012 Olympiad in Istanbul. In this atmosphere, and with Ilyumzhinov waving his magic wand again to arrange for the reimbursement of all teams who are out of pocket due to late changes in the dates of the charter flights, who were the FIDE delegates most likely to vote for? The man who provides so much money for chess, or the man whose campaign talks a good game about future sponsorship but without any concrete evidence that he can keep his election promises?

No, money isn't everything, but when you are running FIDE it sure helps!

David Levy served as the FIDE delegate for Scotland for 17 years,  was on the Central Committee of FIDE for eight years, and led or participated in three FIDE election campaigns in the past.

Radio interviews (audio)

  • Echo-Moscow interview with Garry Kasparov (in Russian)
    Kasparov says the election took place in an atmosphere of total intimidation, that African delegated were threatened that their return tickets would not be paid. There were numerous procedural irregularities and suppression of public debate. He says he does not know anything about the offer of vice presidency to Karpov and finds it very hard to believe that Karpov could accept such an offer. He himself certainly wouldn't do so.

  • Echo-Moscow interview with Kirsan Ilyumzhinov (in Russian)
    Ilyumzhinov says "it was a privilege to fight against the two champions, Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov", and that Karpov should be his vice-president in FIDE. He made the offer just before the General Assembly, and Karpov was now considering it.

All ChessBase report on the FIDE Elections 2010

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