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Has South Ossetian Leader Outfoxed Moscow?

Disqualified presidential candidate Alla Dzhioyeva speaks to the media outside the Central Election Commision building in Tskhinvali on November 30.
Disqualified presidential candidate Alla Dzhioyeva speaks to the media outside the Central Election Commision building in Tskhinvali on November 30.
Tensions are rising in the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia following a clumsy attempt by de facto President Eduard Kokoity to thwart Moscow's attempt to install its preferred candidate to succeed him and simultaneously prolong his term in office by having the republic's Supreme Court annul the outcome of the November 27 presidential election runoff.

But the apparent winner of that runoff vote, opposition candidate Alla Dzhioyeva, refuses to accept the Supreme Court ruling. She has set about forming a government, and met earlier on November 30 with Kokoity to try to persuade him to acknowledge her as president and cede power. When he refused, she released an appeal to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to intervene to restore "constitutional order and stability."

In the first round of voting on November 13, the three candidates backed by Kokoity each polled less than 10 percent of the vote. South Ossetian Emergency Situations Minister Anatoly Bibilov, who is backed by Moscow, and former Education Minister Dzhioyeva finished neck and neck with between 24-25 percent of the vote.

Incomplete results made public the morning after the runoff from 74 of the total 85 polling stations gave Dzhioyeva 56.74 percent of the vote compared with 40 percent for Bibilov. Bibilov responded by publicly alleging that Dzhioyeva's supporters engaged in intimidating and bribing voters to cast their ballots for her.

Acting on those allegations, the Unity party that backed Bibilov's candidacy appealed to the Supreme Court to annul the outcome of the vote, which it duly did.

The Supreme Court also ruled that because the final election results were invalid, they should not be made public, and that in light of the purported "violations" by her supporters Dzhioyeva is not eligible to participate in the repeat ballot. It did not specify which article of the election law that latter ruling was based on. Meeting in emergency session later on November 29, the South Ossetian parliament, in which only four pro-Kokoity parties are represented, scheduled that vote for March 25, 2012.

Who Would Run Again?

Bibilov's allegations of malpractice by Dzhioyeva's campaign staff lack credibility, however. As Dzhioyeva pointed out, they were made only after the Central Election Commission released the preliminary results on November 28 showing that she had a clear lead. She stressed that none of Bibilov's campaign staff reported anything untoward or illegal while the vote was in process or after polling stations closed late on November 27. Moreover, election observers, including those deployed by the Russian State Duma, unanimously declared that the vote was free, fair, and transparent, with no violations.

Security forces watch over Dzhioyeva supporters outside the Central Election Commision building in Tskhinvali on November 30.
Security forces watch over Dzhioyeva supporters outside the Central Election Commision building in Tskhinvali on November 30.

Hundreds of Dzhioyeva supporters congregated outside the government building in Tskhinvali on November 30 to await the outcome of her talks with Kokoity. Expressing widespread distrust and rancor toward the current authorities, one woman told the website that "if this criminal ruling remains in force, we shall storm the building where the tyrant is holed up with his gang." The crowd has apparently ignored Dzhioyeva's appeal to disperse.

Meanwhile, South Ossetian Deputy Prosecutor-General Eldar Kokoyev has construed Dzhioyeva's formation of a cabinet as an attempted "colored revolution" that, he warned, was impermissible.

Kokoity, who affirmed the day after the first round that it was unthinkable that a woman should be elected to head a Caucasus republic, appears ready to resort to violence against Dzhioyeva's supporters. reported that security forces have opened fire at least once over the heads of the crowds gathered outside the government building. Whether the police would side with Kokoity or Dzhioyeva remains unclear: Interior Minister Valery Valiyev met with her on November 29 and they both pledged to ensure the situation did not spiral out of control.

Bibilov, meanwhile, is maintaining a low profile, and it is not clear whether he will participate in the repeat vote in March. The Russian daily "Izvestia" quoted him as saying he hadn't yet decided whether to participate in the repeat vote and would not make that decision on his own. Translated into plain English, that means he is waiting to be informed whether Moscow now considers him irrevocably damaged goods. On the other hand, it is not clear who else the Kremlin might back in the repeat vote.

Barring massive, blatant falsification, which could trigger mass protests, the chances of one of Kokoity's preferred successors getting elected is close to zero. By contrast, the protest electorate who voted for Dzhioyeva in the second round would almost certainly vote next time around for whichever independent candidate she chooses to support. She would, however, have to keep that decision a secret until the last minute to avoid compromising that candidate's chances of registering for the vote.

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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