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New Political Tensions Surface In South Ossetia

South Ossetia's Eduard Kokoity
South Ossetia's Eduard Kokoity
Just weeks after voting down a proposed referendum on permitting authoritarian incumbent President Eduard Kokoity to serve a third consecutive term, the parliament of Georgia's breakaway South Ossetia region is embroiled in a new crisis.

An attempt last week to force a no-confidence vote in the republican government headed since August 2009 by Vadim Brovtsev, a former businessman from Russia's Chelyabinsk Oblast, failed, and the instigator was formally condemned and threatened with expulsion from Kokoity's Unity party, which holds 17 of the 34 parliament seats. At the same time, the People's Party established two years ago at Kokoity's behest has suspended its participation in the work of the legislature to protest the majority's refusal to openly condemn the perceived failings of Brovtsev and his cabinet.

The catalyst for the crisis was a debate on the findings of a five-member parliamentary commission established to evaluate the work of Brovtsev's cabinet, which has come under repeated criticism since early 2010 for alleged inefficiency and embezzling funds allocated by the Russian government for the reconstruction of infrastructure damaged or destroyed during the August 2008 Georgian-Russian war. Some observers have attributed that criticism to a struggle between various government agencies and political factions over the allocation of those funds.

Summarizing the commission's findings on July 6 at the final parliament session before the two-month summer break, commission member Amiran Dyakonov, who sought last year to initiate a vote of no confidence in the government, adduced multiple "serious shortcomings and omissions" on the part of the government, including a lack of professionalism; failure to draft a new version of the legislation regulating the government's activity; inability to resolve pressing social and economic problems; and creating tax breaks for Russian companies, primarily from Chelyabinsk, invited to implement various projects in South Ossetia. The assessment reportedly concluded that Brovtsev could no longer be entrusted to head the government.

Dyakonov proposed endorsing the commission's findings and recommendations and submitting them to Kokoity, and again raised the prospect of a vote of no confidence in the government. But when it came to voting on the commission's written assessment, it was discovered that two versions existed, one with and one without the commission's formal recommendations (including the no-confidence vote). Dyakonov promptly accused commission Chairman Zurab Kokoyev (who is also Unity party chairman) of forging the draft version without recommendations, and said that voting on a draft without recommendations would be illegal.

Stanislav Kochiyev (Communist Party of South Ossetia) nonetheless advocated delaying a no-confidence vote until Kokoity had acquainted himself with, and delivered his verdict on, the commission's findings. Deputies finally voted to send the commission's assessment and recommendations to Kokoity to enable him to take whatever action he considered appropriate.

But the People's Party (the second-largest parliament faction with nine mandates) immediately issued a statement announcing it would suspend temporarily its participation in the work of the legislature to protest what it termed the support shown by the Unity party and the Communists for the "antinational" actions of the Brovtsev government. It claimed the behavior of those two factions "showed that the legislature in its current composition is incapable of taking upon itself the responsibility for the fate of the people of South Ossetia."

In a separate interview later the same day, People's Party Chairman Kazimir Pliyev accused unnamed members of Brovtsev's government of embezzlement. He repeated that his party "does not want to participate any longer in this farce" and "betray our people."

Dyakonov immediately expressed support for the People's Party statement and called for the dissolution of the parliament. (In an online opinion poll on the website OsInform, over 51 percent of respondents expressed approval of that demand.) He further said he would call for an emergency congress of the Unity party to discuss the situation, implying that other party members supported him. On July 11, however, the Unity party's leadership formally reprimanded Dyakonov for "incompetent and libelous" public statements that "insulted the party's entire membership." Dyakonov was ordered to apologize and retract his remarks or risk expulsion from the parliamentary faction, and possibly also from the party.

The People's Party decision to distance itself from the parliament's decision not to formally endorse the call for Brovtsev's dismissal is puzzling. The party was established, almost certainly at Kokoity's behest, on the eve of the May 2009 parliamentary elections in order to deny an eponymous opposition party the right to participate in that ballot while creating the illusion of political pluralism. It is therefore unlikely that party Chairman Pliyev would deliberately set out to challenge or alienate Kokoity.

True, relations between Kokoity and Brovtsev have been strained for over a year, but Kokoity abandoned what appeared to be an all-out campaign to force Brovtsev's dismissal after a dressing down in May 2010 at the hands of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Following talks in Moscow on July 9 with Russian Minister for Regional Development Viktor Basargin, Kokoity's press service issued a statement saying the two men "registered with satisfaction" that reconstruction was now proceeding more swiftly and smoothly thanks to better coordination between the Russian and South Ossetian governments.

Moreover, as parliament speaker Kochiyev argued in an interview on July 8, there is little point at this juncture -- just months before the presidential election due in November -- in calling for a no-confidence vote in the government, which will in any case have to resign once a new president is elected. If Kokoity nonetheless considered it imperative to do so, Article 50 (12) of South Ossetia's constitution empowers the president to dismiss the government on his own initiative -- although if Kokoity wanted to settle scores with Brovtsev before stepping down as president, he may have deemed it politic to engineer the dissolution of the cabinet indirectly, rather than risk a confrontation with Brovtsev's patrons and protectors in Moscow.

Even more crucially, Article 54 of the constitution expressly forbids the dissolution of the parliament either when a state of emergency is in force, or within six months of the date on which the president's term in office expires, a prohibition of which Dyakonov was apparently unaware. Kokoity was sworn in for his second five-year term on November 25, 2006.

A further possibility is that, despite his repeated affirmations that he does not aspire to a third presidential term, Kokoity is in no hurry to relinquish power. In that case, manageable domestic political turbulence of the kind triggered by the events of the past week could serve as a pretext for imposing a state of emergency and delaying the presidential ballot until his political future, in whatever capacity, is secure. Kokoity has not commented publicly on the parliament crisis.

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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