Election 06: A Game of Chess – and Politics

6/2/2006 – Kirsan Ilyumzhinov is facing one of the toughest political battles of his life. On Friday the mercurial president faces an election that could see him toppled from his throne – not in the Russian republic but as head of the chess world. Here's a final pre-election assessment by the Moscow Times.

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A Game of Chess -- and Politics

Carl Schreck, Staff Writer of the Moscow Times, writes:

Kirsan Ilyumzhinov is facing one of the toughest political battles of his life. In his republic of Kalmykia, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov has never allowed for much in the way of democratic opposition. But on Friday the mercurial president could face his toughest political battle yet in an ostensibly free and fair election that could see him toppled from his throne – not in the Russian republic but as head of the chess world.

Delegates from more than 150 national chess federations will cast their ballots Friday in Turin, Italy, to elect the president of the International Chess Federation, or FIDE, in the most serious challenge to Ilyumzhinov's presidency of that organization since he assumed the post 11 years ago.

Under his tenure, Ilyumzhinov has failed to secure stable corporate sponsorship for FIDE. Now, Dutch-born businessman and chess benefactor Bessel Kok is trying to defeat the incumbent, whom President Vladimir Putin re-appointed as president of Kalmykia in October.

Russian newspapers have hinted that Western chess federations are plotting to make sure the Russian loses. In a Komsomolskaya Pravda article Tuesday, Alexei Gulf said the "NATO of chess" – the United States, Western Europe and Turkey – had Russia in its crosshairs. "Remember," Gulf wrote, "how our figure skater Irina Slutskaya was robbed [of a gold medal] at the Winter Olympics in the same city – Turin."

As of Thursday evening, Ilyumzhinov said he had the support of 86 national federations while Kok said he had pledges from 41 federations, according to their campaign web sites. International master David Levy, a former FIDE delegate from Scotland, said Thursday that Ilyumzhinov appeared to be heading for victory. "It is well known that in FIDE elections many promises are broken, so no one can be really certain," Levy said. "But the people who are most genuinely in the know, those on the two election teams, paint a picture of a Kirsan victory. His guys are all smiles, while those I have seen today from the Bessel camp have an air of doom about them."

Full Moscow Times article (in English)


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