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Chechnya Goes to Polls Today As Moscow Hopes for Disarray

Candidates proclaim independence from Russia, while voters hope for food

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As she swept her living room floor while a sister brushed paint onto the walls of her newly built home, Yesita Dadayeva was unfazed by the prospect of receiving several hundred guests today.

"Let them come. I'm just happy," she says. "I'm doing this so that we have a president as soon as possible."

Ms. Dadayeva, the owner of the largest intact house in this half-destroyed village south of Grozny, has turned her home into a makeshift polling station for today's elections. And like Chechens throughout this war-shattered republic, she's pinning her hopes on the vote as a first step toward a normal life after two years of bloodshed and privation.

For most voters, these presidential and parliamentary elections are about elemental issues: finding a proper place to live, any kind of job, and enough food to feed the family.

"People are thinking first and foremost about food," says Zaur Najayev, the mayor of Shali, a regional capital.

The broader questions at stake, such as the unresolved status of the breakaway republic's relations with Moscow, fall by the wayside.

In any event, the Kremlin's insistence that Chechnya is still a part of Russia is irrelevant to the main presidential candidates, all of whom were leaders of the republic's battle for independence. Voters' options are limited to men who reject anything short of full sovereignty because pro-Moscow opposition leaders have chosen to stay out of the race.

"There may be some candidates for parliament who don't support independence, but they wouldn't admit it," says Alikhan Keharzayev, the president of a local electoral commission in Urus Martan, not far from here. "It wouldn't win them any votes."

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