Eduard Kokoity, who served from 2001-2011 as de facto president of Georgia's breakaway Republic of South Ossetia, has declared his intention of appealing the regional Central Election Commission's refusal to register him as a candidate for the presidential election scheduled for April 9.
Kokoity told TASS on March 6 that that refusal, which the commission attributed to his failure to meet the requirement that election candidates should have been resident in the region for at least nine months of each of the 10 years prior to the ballot, was made on the basis of incorrect information received from the security forces. Incumbent Leonid Tibilov, who is seeking reelection, is a former head of the regional State Security Committee (KGB).
For good measure, Kokoity also demanded that Tibilov's registration for the ballot be rescinded on the grounds that he allegedly falsified his declaration of income and assets.
Ever since a close associate of Kokoity confirmed late last year that he planned to seek election, observers have expressed doubt that the Central Election Commission would register him as a candidate precisely because of the residency requirement (which Kokoity himself was instrumental in introducing.)
The website Kavpolit.com recently claimed that Kokoity splits his time between Alagir in neighboring North Ossetia and a classy residential district of Moscow, and that the longest period he spent in South Ossetia in 2016 was five consecutive days.
To date, the Central Election Commission has registered four candidates: Tibilov; parliament speaker Anatoly Bibilov; KGB staffer Alan Gagloyev; and construction company owner Amiran Bagayev. A fifth, Alan Kozonov, a doctor and member of the minority Unity of the People parliament faction, is awaiting formal registration. Four other would-be candidates have withdrawn.
With Kokoity out of the running, the election is a clear two-horse race between Tibilov and Bibilov, each of whom is seeking to shape and control the agenda for South Ossetia's eventual incorporation into the Russian Federation. (Kokoity, by contrast, professes himself committed to do all in his power to strengthen the region as an independent sovereign state while expanding "strategic partnership" with Russia.)
Vyacheslav Surkov, the Kremlin's curator for South Ossetia, visited Tskhinvali in mid-February and reportedly assured Tibilov of Russian President Vladimir Putin's support. But Bibilov, too, is said to have received the green light from Moscow, whether to create the impression of a free and competitive ballot or because both men are amenable to seeing the region ultimately subsumed into the Russian Federation is not clear. The prospect of Kokoity's participation in the ballot was viewed negatively by the Russian leadership, however.
Two weeks before Surkov's visit, it was reported that budget-sector employees were being pressured to attend a meeting in support of Tibilov's reelection, which suggests that Tibilov may feel vulnerable to Bibilov's aggressive criticism of him. In a recent interview with Kavpolit.com, Bibilov implicitly accused Tibilov of tolerating corruption and cronyism, obstructing judicial reform, and indifference to the problems of the population at large.