TSKHINVALI, Georgia -- One day after the vote, the Supreme Court of the breakaway Georgian territory of South Ossetia has ordered the region's Central Election Commission to refrain from releasing official results of the second round of the region's election to choose a de facto president.
The court said results should not be announced until after it hears a complaint by Emergency Situations Minister Anatoly Bibilov, the Moscow-backed candidate in the runoff, about alleged electoral violations. Bibilov has charged his opponent, former Education Minister Alla Dzhioyeva, with bribing and intimidating voters.
Authorities in the rest of Georgia refuse to recognize the legitimacy of the vote or of South Ossetia's declared split -- with Russia's support -- following a conflict in the early 1990s.
Despite the Supreme Court's order, Election Commission Chairwoman Bella Pliyeva announced preliminary results that indicate a significant lead for Dzhioyeva. With 74 of 85 polling stations counted, Dzhioyeva was reported as leading by 56.7 percent to 40 percent. The Election Commission said final results would be available in about five days.
Speaking to reporters today, Dzhioyeva urged Bibilov to concede defeat.
"You have to agree that it is an advantage to have 57 percent of the vote. This is a serious blow," Dzhioyeva told a televised press conference. "And I want to use this occasion to call again upon my opponent, Anatoly Bibilov, to demonstrate his civil position and to come out and concede defeat."
Bibilov has been openly supported by Moscow and met with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev shortly before the November 27 voting. He is viewed as the "establishment" candidate continuing the rule of former President Eduard Kokoity, who was constitutionally barred from seeking a third term.
Dzhioyeva has painted herself as an opposition figure who has pledged to combat corruption in the region and to help "political prisoners."
Neither candidate is likely to rock the boat in relations with Russia, which recognized South Ossetia's independence following the war against Georgia in August 2008 and which provides crucial political, financial, and security assistance to the region.
RFE/RL Russian Service correspondent Andrei Babitsky, who has been following the election from the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinkali, says that despite the unfolding dispute over the election results, the result hints at a remarkable change.
If early indications of a new leadership for the self-proclaimed republic stand, he says, it suggests that "South Ossetian society entered these elections in one condition and emerged completely transformed."
Babitsky says people appeared "to believe that their vote matters" in a place with "a very undeveloped civil society."
A victory for Dzhioyeva would be historic for the region, Babitsky says, in ushering in "the first female president in the entire Caucasus." He says it could prompt regional neighbors "to orient themselves on this example."
In a reference to southern Russia's republics of Chechnya, North Ossetia, and Daghestan, Babitsky says Moscow appeared to model its approach to the South Ossetia vote on its experience with its own North Caucasus republics, highlighted by "direct, unmediated management."
Despite Moscow's 2008 decision to recognize the territory's independence, only a handful of countries have followed suit.
The vast majority of the international community considers South Ossetia to be legally part of Georgia.
written in Prague by RFE/RL correspondent Robert Coalson on the basis of reporting by RFE/RL's Georgian and Russian services