The Kremlin-backed candidate won a crushing victory in the presidential vote last weekend, but there were questions over how election officials managed to report high turnout figures when polling stations had often been deserted.
  
The election was forced by the May assassination of the former Chechen president by separatists who have been fighting Moscow for independence for a decade.

With all the votes counted, Alkhanov had reduced the other six candidates to the status of also-rans by garnering 73.48%, according to local election officials. His nearest rival, Movsur Khamidov, polled only 8.94%.

But observers say the elections were neither free nor fair, and without a broader-based political process Chechnya is doomed to more bloodshed.

Following his election victory, Alkhanov, a career police officer, vowed to consign "separatist extremists to the dustbin of history".

He earmarked security as his top priority and reiterated the Kremlin's stance against negotiations with separatist leader and former Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov.
  
Security pledges

 

"Maskhadov and [radical Islamic] Wahhabism have no future in Chechnya," said the 47-year-old, whom most Chechens had never heard of until a few months ago.
  
The extremists "may kill and make explosions, but the will of the people has thrown them into the dustbin of history and Maskhadov has chosen this way himself. The talk of the imaginary legitimacy of Maskhadov is misplaced," Alkhanov said.

  
He also vowed to maintain the policies of assassinated president Akhmad Kadyrov, a pro-Moscow former rebel, "to rebuild the economy and assure security for the inhabitants of Chechnya".

 

Reports said polling centres were
deserted, despite Moscow's figures

However, Daniel Pellathy, of the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya, told Aljazeera.net that Alkhanov must stabilise the security situation to accomplish his goals, but will be unable to do so without including the rebels in the political process.

"However much Moscow may dislike it, they can't keep excluding people who have support, political goals and guns, from the negotiating table," he said.

"It is true that the rebels have been linked to murders and acts of terrorism but probably only in equal proportion to those carried out by the federal forces."

He added: "It is not as if the rebels are international jihadists who hate the West and the very concept of civilisation. They have clear political goals based on nationalism and ethnicity. They are people that it is possible to negotiate with."

Election 'sham'

 

Before the elections, the rebels decried the process as a sham.

A rebel website said the Russian government "has been trying to impose an undemocratic system in Chechnya for over five years".

"At this moment any elections in Chechnya are impossible. President Maskhadov and the Parliament of Chechnya are ... the only legitimate government under these circumstances," a statement on the website said.

"Maskhadov and [radical Islamic] Wahhabism have no future in Chechnya"

Alu Alkhanov,
Chechen president

Kavkazcenter.com added elections are impossible with 80,000 Russian soldiers in the country, when travel is restricted all over Chechnya, and when there is no independent mass media.

Their protestations seem to be borne out by most observers.

The respected Russian rights group Memorial said the "election should be declared null and void due to the weak participation. Everything else is just falsification."
   
The Russian press also expressed incredulity at the result.
  
International observers

 

"The name of the winner was known in advance," said the daily Kommersant.
  
And Tanya Lokshina of rights organisation Moscow Helsinki Group said: "Alkhanov's de facto appointment as president, in effect dictating to the Chechen people who should be their representative, will not lead to lasting peace."

On the other hand, local election officials vehemently denied charges of foul play, saying international observers like the Arab League had given their blessing to the vote.
  

Rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov
was elected president in 1997

If journalists had only seen empty polling stations "then you managed to arrive at the wrong moment, these things happen", said the republic's top election official Abdul-Kerim Arsakhanov.

 

Nevertheless, author of two books on the Chechen conflict Tom de Waal, of London's Institute of War and Peace Reporting, said Alkhanov has even less support in the region than Kadyrov had.

He told Aljazeera.net: "Kadyrov had some measure of authority and was his own man to a certain extent. He had a power base in the region and the deal was that he would support Moscow in the big picture if Moscow allowed him to have a certain measure of autonomy in running affairs in Chechnya.

"But I think Alkhanov was chosen because there wasn't anyone else fit to perform the role. He doesn't have the power base in Chechnya that Kadyrov had."

War-weary

De Waal said the election has further alienated the Chechen people from politics in general.

"There is just no trust anymore. People by and large have been turned off politics. It is difficult to say how much support anyone really has in the region but I would guess that Maskhadov and the rebels have between 10 and 20% of the popular support, another 10% are pro-Moscow and the rest of the people are just war-weary and fed up."

"There is just no trust anymore. People by and large have been turned off politics ... people are just war-weary and fed up"

Tom de Waal,
Institute of War and Peace Reporting

He added: "The only way forward is to have a broader political process and some international observers on the ground so that ordinary Chechens can be assured that the human rights situation is being monitored."

Tens of thousands were killed in the first Chechen conflict from 1994 to 1996. Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops back into the mainly Muslim territory on Russia's southern fringes in 1999 to cement his image as a strong leader ahead of his own election.
   
But victory over the rebels has eluded Putin, now in his second term, and the killing of Kadyrov - Putin's iron man in the region - was a blow.

 

Separatists have promised to dole out the same fate to Alkhanov.

"Like last time, the authorities will be signing the death warrant of the man they pick. Neither elections, nor Russia's current politics in Chechnya will bring the desired results," rebel envoy Akhmed Zakayev said in a recent statement.