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Radical Opposition Barred From South Ossetian Parliament Ballot

South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity is now practically guaranteed a majority in parliament
Eight months after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev formally recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states, South Ossetia's Central Election Commission (CEC) has barred the radical opposition People's Party from participating in the parliamentary elections to be held on May 31.

People's Party chairman Roland Kelekhsayev, who 10 days ago appealed to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to intervene on his party's behalf, has vowed to appeal the CEC decision to the Supreme Court.

The exclusion of Kelekhsayev's party virtually guarantees that South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity's Unity party will win a clear majority of seats in the new parliament, despite a steep decline in Kokoity's personal popularity rating since the August 2008 war with Georgia. (Vyacheslav Gobozov, chairman of the opposition Socialist party Fydybasta [Fatherland] has predicted that in a fair ballot Unity would garner no more than 17 of the 34 seats.) By the same token, Medvedev's reluctance to intervene to ensure even the appearance of a fair election suggests that Moscow continues to regard Kokoity as the most suitable and effective figure to head the nominally independent state.

Kelekhsayev's party, which according to "Vremya novostei" on April 13 was originally formed to create the illusion of political pluralism, has three seats in the outgoing parliament, the Communist Party has four, and Kokoity's Unity party 23. The remaining four mandates remained vacant because they were for constituencies with a Georgian majority, the population of which boycotted the vote.

Fydybasta was barred from participating in the 2004 parliamentary election because at that time it was regarded as the main challenger to Kokoity's Unity.

Unity and the Communist Party have both been registered to participate in the May 31 election, as has Fydybasta.

Kelekhsayev's People's Party convened a congress in Tskhinvali on April 9 at which delegates selected 10 candidates for the ballot, with Kelekhsayev heading the party list. (All 34 mandates in the new parliament are to be distributed under the proportional system.) The next day, however, two people claiming to be members of the People's Party convened a second congress. That congress endorsed an alternative list of candidates headed by Kazimir Pliyev, who is said to be absolutely loyal to Kokoity. Delegates also voted unanimously to depose Kelekhsayev as party chairman.

Immediately after that congress ended, armed men stormed the Tskhinvali headquarters of the People's Party and took away documentation. They also detained three party activists for several hours.

Kelekhsayev, who, fearing for his personal safety, lives in Vladikavkav in neighboring North Ossetia, declared Pliyev's election as party chairman illegal and denied that his party has split. Both Pliyev's "cloned" People's Party and the core group headed by Kelekhsayev duly submitted to the CEC their lists of election candidates. But the CEC rejected Kelekhsayev's list and registered Pliyev's candidates to participate in the election.

At the same time, Kelekhsayev's faction appealed for support to Russian President Medvedev. The appeal deplored what it termed legal abuses that threaten to reduce the upcoming election to a "farce" and a manifestation of "dictatorship and tyranny." It also deplored "total physical and psychological pressure" brought to bear on Kelekhsayev and his supporters. It concluded with a warning that if measures are not taken to ensure that the election is democratic, his party will appeal to the electorate to boycott the vote.

The lack of any response to that appeal and the CEC decision not to register Kelekhsayev's group suggest that Moscow continues to regard Kokoity as the most reliable guarantor of political stability. For that reason, it is apparently prepared to overlook his lackluster performance during the war and growing popular dissatisfaction over the South Ossetian authorities' failure to distribute humanitarian aid and provide alternative housing for families whose homes were destroyed.

Kelekhsayev is not the first potential challenger to Kokoity to be sidelined. In an extensive interview published in the Russian daily "Kommersant" on December 4, former South Ossetian Security Council Secretary and former KGB General Anatoly Barankevich, who claims to have coordinated the defense of Tskhinvali last August virtually singlehandedly, said he was dismissed from that post because he had become "too popular."

Barankevich was subsequently offered a job working for then-Russian Minister For Regional Development Dmitry Kozak, who previously served for several years as then-President Vladimir Putin's trouble-shooter in the North Caucasus. But Barankevich was soon dismissed from that position too, apparently because he had been too assiduous in monitoring how the funds made available by the Russian government for post-conflict reconstruction in South Ossetia were being spent.

A second former senior official who, like Barankevich, fell foul of Kokoity is former South Ossetian Prime Minister Yury Morozov, whom Kokoity dismissed on August 18 just days after the EU-mediated cease-fire took hold. Russian media have identified those two men as forming the nucleus of the anti-Kokoity opposition, together with Albert Djusoyev, a Moscow-based Ossetian businessman. Djusoyev heads the construction company Stroyprogress that is constructing a gas pipeline to supply South Ossetia with Russian gas.

The South Ossetian leadership has publicly accused Djusoyev of plotting to overthrow Kokoity and seize power.

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.


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