World chess body FIDE was to elect its chief yesterday after a power struggle worthy of the bitterest clashes on the board between the controversial -Kremlin-backed incumbent and an ex-world champion.
Current FIDE president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov is standing for re-election at the body’s congress in the Russian Urals city of Khanty--Mansiysk, but faces a strong challenge from Soviet chess legend Anatoly Karpov.
The race has been marked by vicious personal attacks between the two rivals’ camps who have run US-presidential style campaigns and visited dozens of FIDE (World Chess Federation) member states in order to win delegates’ votes.
The eccentric Ilyumzhinov is one of the most controversial figures in the history of chess and his opponents say he has exposed the game to ridicule by claiming to have met aliens and even been shown round a UFO.
The election will be held on the basis of one member one vote for each of FIDE’s member states, who number almost 170, with the outcome expected to be clear by around 9am GMT.
Ilyumzhinov earlier this month stepped down from his post as president of the Russian Buddhist region of Kalmykia after a 17-year rule that saw him build an ambitious “Chess City” in the dusty regional capital Elista.
He has held the post of FIDE president since 1995 and has been strongly backed by the Kremlin in the shape of Arkady Dvorkovich, the head of the Russian Chess Federation’s supervisory board, who is also the chief economic adviser of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
Russia officially nominated Ilyumzhinov while Karpov, famous for grinding his opponents into submission with his patient strategy during his Soviet-era heyday, was ironically nominated by the US.
In another irony, Karpov’s once greatest rival, now vehement Kremlin critic Garry Kasparov, has flown to Khanty-Mansiysk to back his candidacy.
Their legendary five-month long World Championship clash in Moscow in 1984 was abandoned without a result, with officials fearing for the health of both players.
Ilyumzhinov’s team have predicted they are on course for victory after their candidate visited an extraordinary 40 countries in the run-up to the vote, saying over 90 FIDE members will back him.
However, Karpov has insisted his chances are high.
“I consider my chances to be very high because my program is stronger for the development of chess than that of my opponent,” he told the RIA Novosti news agency.