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South Ossetia Heads Into Uncharted Constitutional Waters

Will Eduard Kokoity seek to stay on as president?

Will Eduard Kokoity seek to stay on as president?

The Supreme Court of Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia has upheld its annulment of the outcome of the presidential runoff on November 27, in which opposition candidate Alla Dzhioyeva defeated the Kremlin's preferred candidate, South Ossetian Emergency Situations Minister Anatoly Bibilov.

As a result, the region will technically no longer have a legitimate president after incumbent Eduard Kokoity's second term expires at midnight on December 7 -- unless the Supreme Court rules in the interim to extend Kokoity's term for several months.

If the court fails to do so, then in line with Article 55:4 of the republic's constitution, the presidential powers should devolve on the prime minister. That post is currently held by a Russian citizen, Vadim Brovtsev, who has been engaged in a standoff with Kokoity for the past 18 months.

It is therefore likely that the Supreme Court or parliament will try by any means possible to legalize an extension of Kokoity's term in office. At least some lawmakers, however, would refuse to play along. Deputy parliament speaker Mira Tskhovrebova released a statement on December 6 arguing that Kokoity should honor the choice of the voters who elected Dzhioyeva president and step down immediately in accordance with the constitution.

Supporters of Dzhioyeva, who according to preliminary returns made public on November 28 by the Central Election Commission won the runoff with some 57 percent of the vote, said on December 6 they were withdrawing their original appeal against the annulment of the ballot but would file a new one by December 9.

But even if they do so, it is unlikely that the court would reverse its previous decisions before December 10 -- the date that Dzhioyeva's staff has set for her inauguration as president. In light of the Supreme Court decision upholding the annulment of the vote, any attempt by Dzhioyeva to assume executive power would technically be illegal, and would only substantiate Kokoity's claims of December 5 that the opposition was trying to perpetrate in South Ossetia a rerun of the 2004 Ukrainian Orange Revolution.

Revolution In The Air?

Such an attempt would, moreover, almost certainly lead to violent clashes between Dzhioyeva's supporters, hundreds of whom have been camped out in subzero temperatures in front of the government building in Tskhinvali for the past week, and the army and security services. True, heads of the "force" agencies told journalists in Tskhinvali on December 1 they would not use weapons to disperse Dzhioyeva's supporters, but in South Ossetia, as in the United Kingdom, a week is a long time in politics.

Alla Dzhioyeva addresses her supporters in Tskhinvali last week.

Alla Dzhioyeva addresses her supporters in Tskhinvali last week.

But there are signs that Dzhioyeva may throw in the towel rather than go ahead with her inauguration. She was quoted as telling journalists in Tskhinvali after the Supreme Court session earlier on December 6 that she may decide to apply for political asylum abroad. One of her most influential backers, Russian free-style-wrestling team champion Dzhambolat Tedeyev, was forced to flee Russia last week after having been summoned to Moscow by Russia's Federal Security Service and ordered to withdraw his support for Dzhioyeva. His current whereabouts is not known.

Bibilov, for his part, was quoted as saying he "may" take part in the March 25 repeat ballot, but had not yet made a firm decision. Even if Dzhioyeva does not leave South Ossetia, the Supreme Court has already barred her from running in the repeat ballot. But her supporters, who for a brief week exulted in the possibility of supplanting Kokoity's corrupt and authoritarian regime in a free and democratic vote, may still hit back by boycotting the vote en masse.

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.