The Really Important Political Battle of the Year

In addition to the recent election in Britain and the November mid-term elections in the United States, this year features an all-out political fight for the presidency of International Chess Federation:

[T]he politics of chess has taken a curious climb to the headlines. Anatoly Karpov, former world champion and one of the greatest players in chess history, is trying to unseat Kirsan Ilyumzhinov as president of the International Chess Federation. Ilyumzhinov is the president of the tiny southern Russian republic of Kalmykia.

Karpov, who is said to be quite wealthy, has joined the battle in earnest and claimed initially that Ilyumzhinov has not yet received the support of any delegation and has run a corrupt administration. Ilyumzhinov responded through Ali Nihat Yazici, president of the Turkish Chess Federation, who stated that the Turkish delegation supports Ilyumzhinov. A few more nations have since joined the Turks in their support of Ilyumzhinov….

German, French, and US delegations have announced support for Karpov. Retired former world champion Gary Kasparov and the current top-rated player Magnus Carlsen also support Karpov. They will be joining Karpov in a benefit for Karpov’s candidacy in New York today.

What adds an unquestionably delectable flavor to the campaign is a letter from Andre Lebedev, an MP in Russia, addressed to President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia. The missive asks Medvedev to report on a statement made in April by Ilyumzhinov that aliens briefly abducted him in 1997. Ilyumzhinov said that there were witnesses. Lebedev’s letter is reported on ChessBase.com. Lebedev argues that Ilyumzhinov is either unfit to rule or has failed to report whether he yielded up state secrets to the alien visitors.

Ilyumzhinov, who is something of an authoritarian and a kook, must be truly awful for Gary Kasparov to be willing to endorse his longtime bitter rival Anatoly Karpov against him. Not only did Karpov and Kasparov clash on the chessboard, they were also longtime political rivals. Karpov was closely identified with the USSR’s communist establishment and today’s Putin regime, while Kasparov was a supporter of the dissident movement in Soviet days, and is a prominent leader of the liberal democratic opposition to today’s increasingly authoritarian Russian government.

UPDATE: This Russian-language article has more information on Kasparov’s support for Karpov’s candidacy and also describes their partial reconciliation that occurred when Karpov visited Kasparov when the latter was briefly imprisoned by the Putin regime for organizing a demonstration against it.