Over the past four days, four of the 17 registered candidates in the November 13 election to succeed Eduard Kokoity as de facto president of the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia have pulled out
of the race.
One of the remaining 13, Vadim Tskhovrebov, has predicted that several more will follow suit
. That is unlikely, however, to guarantee a victory for the Kremlin's preferred candidate, South Ossetian Emergency Situations Minister Anatoly Bibilov -- assuming that the ballot is free and fair.
The election is a three-way contest between candidates representing diverging geopolitical agendas
. Russia, which formally recognized South Ossetia as an independent state in the wake of the August 2008 war with Georgia, is seeking to impose a candidate who would work for South Ossetia's eventual merger with North Ossetia and incorporation into the Russian Federation, and conduct a purge of the current leadership that is widely believed to have embezzled millions of rubles allocated over the past three years from the Russian federal budget for reconstruction of infrastructure destroyed during the war.
Bibilov is that candidate, and a delegation from the Russian State Duma accompanied by North Ossetian President Taymuraz Mamsurov traveled to Tskhinvali
earlier this week to express support for him.
Kokoity and his entourage, by contrast, are dead set on preserving South Ossetia's quasi-independent status, although they do not rule out the republic's accession to the Russian-Belarus Union State. Loss of that quasi-independence would, for them, entail ceding political power, influence, and access to Russian budget funds. Kokoity's preferred candidates are believed to be State Media Committee Chairman Georgy Kabisov and/or Tskhinvali First Deputy Mayor Alan Kotayev.
The South Ossetian opposition too considers the republic's independence non-negotiable, given the sacrifices it cost the population at large over a period of two decades. But although five opposition candidates have vowed to cooperate to prevent ballot-rigging, they have not aligned behind a single candidate the way that Armenian opposition candidates did in 1996 behind Vazgen Manukian, the primary challenger to incumbent President Levon Ter-Petrossian.
Instead, the opposition vote is likely to be split among opposition candidates Alla Dzhioyeva; youth movement leader Alan Kochiyev, currently in pretrial detention on assault charges; physician Dzhemal Dzhigkoyev; and businessman Vladimir Kelekhsayev.
Some observers anticipate the election will go to a second round run-off, with Kabisov and Dzhioyeva the front-runners. In a poll conducted by the opposition website uasamonga.ru
, 52.6 percent of respondents identified Dzhioyeva as the candidate whom they trusted most. Bibilov placed second with 11.2 percent followed by Social Democratic Party leader Dmitry Tasoyev (6.4 percent), Kabisov (5.4 percent), Kochiyev (4.5 percent) and Kotayev (3.3 percent).