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South Ossetian Election Marathon: All's Well That Ends Well?

Votes are counted at a polling station in Tskhinvali, South Ossetia, on April 8.

Votes are counted at a polling station in Tskhinvali, South Ossetia, on April 8.

Voters in the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia succeeded on April 8 at the fourth attempt in electing a new de facto president.

Former First Deputy Prime Minister Leonid Tibilov defeated human rights ombudsman David Sanakoyev in a runoff ballot with just over 54 percent of the vote.

Sanakoyev has admitted his defeat and offered congratulations to Tibilov. At the same time, he alleged isolated attempts to rig the outcome, and demanded that they be investigated.

The initial presidential ballot last November triggered a protracted political crisis. Apparently acting at the behest of outgoing de facto President Eduard Kokoity, who was barred by the constitution from seeking a third consecutive presidential term, the republic’s Supreme Court annulled the victory of opposition candidate Alla Dzhioyeva in the November 27 runoff ballot.

Dzhioyeva’s supporters took to the streets in protest: the standoff ended only two weeks later when Dzhioyeva acknowledged the legality of the Supreme Court decision to schedule a repeat ballot for March 25 in which she was given the right to participate.

Brutal Manhandling

In the event, however, Dzhioyeva subsequently retracted her signature to that agreement on the grounds that Kokoity failed to comply with his pledge to fire three senior officials, including Supreme Court Chairman Atsamaz Bichenov.
New South Ossetian leader Leonid Tibilov

New South Ossetian leader Leonid Tibilov

Her plans to proceed with her inauguration as president in February were thwarted by security personnel who forced their way into her headquarters and manhandled her so brutally she had to be hospitalized.

Four candidates were registered for the repeat ballot on March 25, none of whom received the 50 percent plus one vote needed for a first-round victory.

Tibilov got over 42 percent of the vote, Sanakoyev received nearly 25 percent, de facto South Ossetian Ambassador to Moscow Dmitry Medoyev had about 24 percent, and South Ossetian Communist Party First Secretary Stanislav Kochiyev got just over 5 percent.

The runoff candidates‘ positions on key issues were very close: both vowed to investigate the apparent embezzlement by the Kokoity regime of millions of rubles allocated by Moscow for the reconstruction of infrastructure destroyed during the Russia-Georgia War of August 2008.

They also both vowed to promote the consolidation of society following the acrimonious dispute over the annulled November ballot.

Youth Versus Experience

Both Tibilov (60) and Sanakoyev (35) characterized the runoff as a competition between youth and experience.

Tibilov began his career as a physics teacher before joining the KGB in 1981. He was appointed South Ossetian minister of state security in 1992 and first deputy premier in 2006; he also played a key role in the 1990s in internationally mediated efforts to resolve the conflict between South Ossetia and Tbilisi.

Sanakoyev was wounded in an abortive attack by Georgian forces on South Ossetia in 2004. He participated in the evacuation of children from Tskhinvali during the brief Georgian forces' takeover of the city in August 2008. He was also a member of the South Ossetian delegation to the ongoing Geneva talks on the security and humanitarian repercussions of the war.
Leading opposition candidate David Sanakoyev

Leading opposition candidate David Sanakoyev

Sanakoyev argued that "a young republic needs a young president," and that "stability is all very well once everything has been accomplished."

Whether Tibilov‘s victory is to be attributed solely to voters‘ preference for age and experience rather than youthful vision and enthusiasm is not clear.

The influential opposition figures who backed Dzhioyeva in the November election all transferred their support to Tibilov in the repeat election, even if Dzhioyeva herself slammed the repeat election as illegal.

The perception that Sanakoyev was Kokoity’s stalking horse, which he denied vehemently but not entirely convincingly, may equally have proven the decisive factor that cost him the election.

Sanakoyev has already announced his intention to form a new political party to represent the electorate who voted for him.

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.