On March 23, 2003 a new constitution was accepted through referendum in the Chechen republic. The constitution was thought and written up in 2002 under the direction of the Chechen administration chief Akhmad Kadyrov, the Kremlin strongman in Chechnya.
With the constitution being ready in April 2002 the initial idea of the authorities of the Chechen republic was to have the referendum in autumn of that same year. But the referendum was first forwarded to the Kremlin for consideration. In Moscow serious problems arose over several clauses. The main objections revolved around an article that made it mandatory for the president to have been living in Chechnya for the last ten years. This article would have removed all but one opponent of Kadyrov: Maskhadov. After resolving the problems, the green light was given for the referendum. This referendum was finally held on March 23, 2003.
The referendum was very controversial and was strongly opposed by human rights groups and international organizations. Several international organizations, among them the OSCE, declined to send observers.
The process was irregular. Most people never saw the new constitution. The referendum was held in a situation that for all accounts and purposes was still a war. According to Memorial, a respected Russian human rights organization, there were numerous grenade attacks obstructing the process as well as tens of thousands of Russian troops looking on. Moreover there are reports of serious infractions on normal voting procedures. For instance voters were not required to register which allowed residents and non-residents to vote alike and allowed for people to vote several times. There are accounts of polling stations were the number of people entering was counted in the hundreds while the number of votes cast ran in the thousands. Furthermore it seems that voters were intimidated. People were told pensions would be withheld and reprisals would follow if the right vote was not made. Finally, Russian troops stationed in Chechnya were allowed to vote. This added several tens of thousands of votes to the process.
The new 2003 Constitution contradicts separatist aspirations by firmly declaring Chechnya a part of the Russian Federation. More than that, the word sovereignty, prominently mentioned in the constitutions of the other ethnic republics, like Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, is absent from the text.
The constitution allows the Russian president to sack the Chechen one at any time. It also strengthens the hold over the judiciary by making the public prosecution answerable to the federal prosecution.
Finally the constitution keeps everyone in place. The head of administration was renamed acting president and the pre-referendum administration was renamed the new government. This lead to the charge that the referendum was in effect just a way to legitimize a new Moscow backed administration.
The Venice commission has released a very thorough analysis of the text.
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For corrections please contact A. Tschentscher.