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Will 'Decent Guys' Again Outnumber Competent Lawmakers in New South Ossetian Parliament?

Following an election campaign that seems to have been conducted fairly and openly, South Ossetians will go to the polls to elect a new parliament on June 8. (file photo)
The estimated 42,000 voters in Georgia's breakaway Republic of South Ossetia will go to the polls on June 8 to elect a new parliament.

The ballot, in which some 200 candidates from nine political parties will compete for 34 mandates allocated according to the proportional (party list) system, represents a further step in repudiating and dismantling the corrupt and authoritarian system that flourished under the region's former de facto president, Eduard Kokoity.

At the same time, it is difficult to predict with any certainty which and how many parties will garner the minimum 7 percent of the vote required to qualify for parliamentary representation.

Several observers have predicted, as have Fydybasta party chairman Vyacheslav Gobozov and People's Party head Aleksandr Pliyev, that disenchantment with and distrust of the current leadership headed by de facto President Leonid Tibilov will be reflected in low voter participation. In 2009, turnout was 81.93 percent.

Tibilov, elected in the second round of a repeat ballot in April 2012, is struggling to deliver on promises to complete the reconstruction of homes and infrastructure damaged or destroyed during the August 2008 Georgia-Russia war and kick start the region's stagnating economy. But as the newspaper "Respublika" noted in an editorial pegged to the second anniversary of Tibilov's inauguration, his achievements to date include promoting political liberalization and media freedom and supporting a burgeoning civil society.

Tibilov's election as de facto president served as the catalyst for the creation of a plethora of new political parties and groups, three of them headed by former presidential candidates to whom Tibilov had offered posts in the new government of national unity. Yedinaya Osetiya is headed by Emergency Situations Minister Anatoly Bibilov and New Ossetia by de facto Foreign Minister David Sanakoyev, whom Tibilov defeated in the second round runoff. The third, Freedom Square, did not apply to participate after a bid to field a joint list of candidates with Vladimir Kelekhsayev's Unity of the People party failed. Freedom Square's future appears in doubt following the resignation in April due to ill health of its founder and chairwoman, Alla Djioyeva.

The parties Alans and A Just Ossetia both decided against participating in the election due to their leaders' shared conviction that the results would be rigged. Fidan was denied registration because its formal application was submitted three minutes after the legal deadline.

A Unique Contest

Observers agree that the upcoming election is unique, for several reasons.

The first is the unprecedentedly high number of parties participating. Of the 14 parties that applied, nine succeeded in registering: Unity; Yedinaya Osetiya; New Ossetia; Fydybasta; the Communist Party; the People's Party; Unity of the People; Nykhas; and Rodina. By contrast, in 2009, only four parties were registered: the pro-Kokoity Unity; the People's Party wing headed by Kazimir Pliyev, the Communist Party; and Fydybasta. Only the first three succeeded in surmounting the minimum 7 percent hurdle.

Second is the fact that Tibilov is not backing any party.

And third, the fairness and openness of the election campaign, which began on May 21, and the absence of major violations of the electoral law.

True, individual candidates including Gobozov were initially denied registration due to their apparent failure to comply with the minimum five-year residency requirement, but most were reinstated after appealing to the Supreme Court.

But there were no major scandals comparable with the hijack of the opposition People's Party in April 2009 by Kokoity's close cronies, after which a group of pro-Kokoity candidates was registered for the ballot while the core party headed by Roland Kelekhsayev was barred.

There are broad similarities between the parties' electoral programs, due to the need to address the formidable political, economic and geopolitical problems the region faces.

With minor differences in focus, almost all advocate constitutional amendments in order to bring about a redistribution of powers between the president, the government and the parliament; a system of checks and balances to make ministers more accountable; and encouraging investment and providing support for small and medium-sized businesses, especially those engaged in agriculture and food processing.

The one key issue on which views diverge is that of relations with the Russian Federation, which formally recognized South Ossetia as an independent state in the wake of the August 2008 war and on which it is largely dependent for financial aid. While Fydybasta and Rodina place the emphasis on working to secure broader recognition by the international community of South Ossetia's independence, Bibilov's Unity made headlines earlier this year by calling on Tibilov to schedule a referendum on the unification of South and North Ossetia within the Russian Federation.

No 'Big Idea'

Several local analysts have expressed concern that the election programs of the nine parties are either too broadly similar, or lack any explanation of how the various reforms they advocate should be implemented.

Russian analyst Yevgeny Krutikov has suggested that due to this lack of a new, inspirational "big idea," voters will instead be guided primarily by the personal qualities of individual candidates and cast their vote for party that fields the largest number of persons they consider to be "decent guys."

Tibilov sees the same danger: as he observed in a recent interview, "being a decent guy isn't a profession." He added that as a result of "incompetence, overdue haste and disregard for the scientific norms of law-making," a majority of the laws passed have proven mutually contradictory.

Gobozov, for his part, described the performance of the parliaments elected in 2004 and 2009 as "an example of how a parliament should not function."

According to Central Election Commission chairwoman Bella Pliyeva, more than 50 international observers will monitor the vote, including some from France, Greece, Israel, and the United States. None of those countries recognize South Ossetia as independent.

-- Liz Fuller

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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