Oslo: Garry Kasparov, the former world chess champion, has rarely tasted defeat in his long playing career. But on Monday, in an election for the presidency of Fide, the world chess federation, Kasparov received a stinging rebuke in his effort to unseat the incumbent, Kirsan N. Ilyumzhinov. Ilyumzhinov won handily, by a vote of 110 to 61 in Tromso, Norway.
Ilyumzhinov, 52, a native of Kalmykia, has led the chess federation since 1995, but not without controversy. He cultivated friendships with Saddam Hussein, Muammar al-Gaddafi and Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, and claims that he was abducted by space aliens one night in 1997.
Kasparov, 51, who is also Russian, has said for years that Ilyumzhinov’s stewardship of the federation has discouraged corporate sponsorship and brought disrepute to the federation.
After the election, Ilyumzhinov issued a statement through a spokesman. “We have big differences with my opponent: I believe that chess should be clear of politics while he thinks that they are a political tool.”
Kasparov has long been a critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin and has sought to find ways to force him from power. Some people saw Kasparov’s running for the presidency of the federation as part of an effort to gain a more visible platform for his political views.
In evident retaliation in the months leading up to the election, Russian embassies in many countries reportedly called chess officials in an effort to help the candidacy of Ilyumzhinov. Among those who said they were contacted were officials in the Czech Republic, Ireland, Jamaica, Kenya, Myanmar, Nigeria, Norway and Singapore.
The election was held during the biennial Chess Olympiad and each of the participating countries had one vote. The campaign was long and bitter as the candidates crisscrossed the globe looking for support.
Ilyumzhinov has run the federation for 19 years. However, his critics accuse him of being a Kremlin puppet with ties to brutal dictators.
“This has been an unfair fight from the very start,” Kasparov said before the vote. Kasparov, 51, is a noted human rights campaigner and an opponent of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.
He accuses Ilyumzhinov of being too close to President Putin and says his presidency of the World Chess Federation has been marked by “abuse and favouritism”.
“Every Russian embassy in the world has been mobilised to support Mr Ilyumzhinov and to keep him in office,” Kasparov said. “It’s not about chess. This is a pure political fight.”
In a vote disputed even before the first ballot was cast, Ilyumzhinov, a former president of the Russian Republic of Kalmykia, defeated Kasparov, a Russian dissident.
Kasparov accused Ilyumzhinov of rigging the outcome, echoing accusations from 2010, when Anatoly Karpov lost the election.