News ID: 1858
Aina Gamzatova, a 46-year-old woman from Dagestan, has made it official. She wants to run against Russian President Vladimir Putin in the March 2018 election.
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Publish Date: 01 January 2018

Muslim Woman Challenging Putin in Upcoming Presidential Election

Hundreds of her supporters gathered around her to celebrate in Makhachkala, Dagestan's capital, on Saturday, two days after she confirmed her bid in a Facebook post. 

Gamzatova heads Russia's largest Muslim media holding - - comprising television, radio and print outlets, writes books on Islam, and runs a charity. 

Her husband, Akhmad Abdulaev, is the Mufti of Dagestan, Russia's troubled province where a confrontation between fighters, clans and federal forces has killed thousands. 

Muslim leader Said Muhammad Abubakarov, Gamzatova's first husband, was blown up in his car back in 1998. His killers have never been found, but he publicly lambasted "Wahabbis" - a term Gamzatova often uses to describe the fighters she wants to get tough on. 

They are "duplicitous" and "blood-thirsty", she has said in books and speeches, despite death threats. 

Gamzatova's candidacy has become a hot topic among Russia's Muslim community. 

While some say she should not step outside her husband's shadow, others applaud her determination. 

Aisha Anastasiya Korchagina, an ethnic Russian convert to Islam who works as a psychologist in Moscow, said: "She was brave enough to use her legal right, that is granted to every Russian national, to run for president, she is brave enough to run a decent election campaign." 

Some see her campaign - irrespective of its results - as a way to boost the image of Muslim women in Russia and to attract attention to the needs of impoverished, overpopulated and multi-ethnic Dagestan. 

"Even if she loses, people will know that a girl in a hijab [a headscarf worn by Muslim women] is not just a mother or a woman, but is also an educated, wise and respected woman," former Olympic champion in boxing and Dagestan's deputy sports minister Gaidarbek Gaidarbekov wrote on Instagram. 

Not winning, but taking part

It is something of a given that Gamzatova has no chance of winning, even if every one of Russia's 20 million Muslims votes for her in a country of more than 140 million people. 

"Of course, she won't become president, it's stupid to even discuss it," wrote Zakir Magomedov, a popular blogger from Dagestan. 

But, she may receive a high number of votes in Dagestan and the Northern Caucasus - something that will ruin Putin's image in the unemployment-addled region that heavily depends on federal subsidies and where – according to election monitors - officials routinely resort to vote rigging and coercion of voters. 

"She will definitely get a majority vote - and Putin won't get his traditional 146 percent from the republic," Magomedov wrote, referring to a joke among Kremlin critics about the percentage of Putin's loyalists. 

Another expert said that Gamzatova's candidacy diversifies the pool of mostly male presidential candidates. 

"This is an exclusively PR step of a rather small scale" in Russia's political landscape, Ekaterina Sokirianskaia, a Northern Caucasus expert and director of the Conflict Analysis and Prevention Centre, a Moscow-based think-tank, told Al Jazeera. "The more different candidates, especially women, the better, and she is a Muslim woman, why not?" 

Gamzatova is by far the most surprising hopeful in the presidential race among a string of nominal rivals and a couple of opposition figures whose ratings trail far behind Putin's.

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