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Is South Ossetia Heading For Political Crisis?

David Sanakoyev incurred the enmity of One Ossetia and its chairman, parliament speaker Anatoly Bibilov, by making public a draft of a new strategic treaty between South Ossetia and Russia .
David Sanakoyev incurred the enmity of One Ossetia and its chairman, parliament speaker Anatoly Bibilov, by making public a draft of a new strategic treaty between South Ossetia and Russia .

The campaign launched last month by the Yedinaya Ossetia (One Ossetia) parliament majority faction to force the dismissal of David Sanakoyev, the de facto foreign minister of Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia, has brought that faction onto a collision course with the republic's prosecutor-general.

Meanwhile, on April 15, deputies from the three minority parliament factions thwarted a second no-confidence vote in Sanakoyev by failing to show up for the parliamentary session for which it was scheduled.

Sanakoyev, 38, ran unsuccessfully in the March 2012 repeat presidential election and subsequently founded the extraparliamentary New Ossetia party, from which he has since resigned. He incurred the enmity of One Ossetia and its chairman, parliament speaker Anatoly Bibilov, by making public in January 2015 the revised draft version of a new strategic treaty On Union Relations and Strategic Partnership between South Ossetia and the Russian Federation, which formally recognized the region as an independent sovereign state in August 2008.

Bibilov, who had called in January 2014 for a referendum on South Ossetia's incorporation into the Russian Federation to be held concurrently with the parliamentary ballot in June of that year, favored the initial draft of that treaty, which envisaged a far closer degree of "integration" with Russia than de facto President Leonid Tibilov and other political parties were apparently prepared to condone.

Bibilov laid the blame for One Ossetia's failure to have the revised draft amended to its liking on Sanakoyev and called for a vote of no confidence in him for his imputed failings as foreign minister. That vote was passed on March 13, with 19 of One Ossetia's 20 parliament deputies voting in favor, but Tibilov declined to dismiss Sanakoyev. (A vote of no confidence requires only a simple majority of the 34 parliament members.) If the parliament votes no confidence in Sanakoyev a second time within two months, however, the constitution requires that he be dismissed.

Whether such a vote will take place is now questionable in light of the concerted action of the three minority factions. Bibilov attributed their absence from the April 15 parliament session to meddling in the work of the legislature by unnamed members of the executive branch who, Bibilov charged, had systematically telephoned minority-faction members and ordered them not to attend the session.

The leaders of the three factions deny this. In separate comments, they explained their absence from the April 15 session in terms of One Ossetia's total disregard of any views that diverge from its own, and what they termed its "stubborn and insistence aspiration to usurp the right to truth in the final instance."

At the same time, both Aleksandr Pliyev, who heads the four-person People's Party faction, and Vladimir Kelekhsayev, leader of the People's Unity (Socialist) party which holds six parliament mandates, acknowledged that the Foreign Ministry's track record was "far from ideal," primarily because of the very limited resources at its disposal. Pliyev further questioned the expediency of making an issue of Sanakoyev's leaking of the text of a draft treaty that has since been signed and ratified.

As indicated above, One Ossetia's single-minded demonization of Sanakoyev has triggered a public dispute between One Ossetia and the Prosecutor-General's Office headed by Merab Chigoyev, a trained lawyer and former prime minister. At the time of the first no-confidence vote, the new chairman of the extraparliamentary Communist Party of South Ossetia, Valery Kaziyev, posted on the parliament website a statement of approval that reportedly affirmed that "there is no place in our country for nationalist and pro-Georgian forces."

Sanakoyev promptly filed a libel suit against Kaziyev, which the latter protested was unfounded. Kaziyev's fellow party members nonetheless voted to dismiss him from the post of chairman to which he had been elected only in September 2014, following the resignation on grounds of ill-health of longtime parliament speaker Stanislav Kochiyev.

One Ossetia rallied to Kaziyev's defense, posting on the parliament website on April 10 a statement protesting as "political persecution inadmissible in a democratic state" the opening of a criminal case against Kaziyev, whom it described as having been ousted as Communist Party leader for his "pro-Russian views." The statement further noted intensified pressure against One Ossetia activists, and deplored the "paradoxical situation" in which lobbying for South Ossetia's incorporation into Russia "is grounds for persecution and overt pressure."

The Prosecutor-General's Office responded on April 15 with a statement affirming that its actions with regard to Sanakoyev's libel suit are neither illegal nor unconstitutional. It characterized the terms "political persecution," "political terror," and "witch-hunt" contained in One Ossetia's statement as defamatory and intended to undermine the authority of the Prosecutor-General's Office.

The following day, the Supreme Court joined in what appears to be a concerted counterattack on Bibilov. The court released a statement taking issue with what it termed "inappropriate statements" Bibilov made during a session of the parliament presidium. At that session, Bibilov reportedly described as "unprofessional," "poor-quality," and "half-baked" amendments to the law on the judiciary drafted by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court statement pointed out that the recently signed treaty with Russia requires specific South Ossetian laws to be brought into compliance with the corresponding Russian legislation. Like the Prosecutor-General's Office, the Supreme Court imputed to Bibilov the desire to undermine its authority.

It is not clear whether the statements by the Prosecutor-General's Office and the Supreme Court were intended simply as a warning to Bibilov to desist from further criticism of official bodies, or whether they herald a bid to remove him from office. South Ossetia's constitution empowers the president to dissolve parliament if the Constitutional Court (which like Tibilov has not yet commented on the situation) rules that the legislature has encroached on the constitutional order.

-- 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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