In the first round of voting on November 13, Bibilov polled just 14 votes more than Dzhioyeva: 6,066 and 6,052 respectively (24.86 and 24.8 percent of the votes cast). The candidates backed by Kokoity -- state bakery network head Vadim Tskhovrebov, Tskhinvali first deputy mayor Alan Kotayev, and State Media Committee Chairman Georgi Kabisov -- placed third, fourth and sixth respectively of the total 11 candidates with 9.9, 9.66, and 7.62 percent of the vote.
Tskhovrebov and Kotayev have since appealed to their supporters to vote for Bibilov in the run off. Kabisov has not yet expressed support for either candidate.
The results of the first round were clearly a shock and an unpleasant surprise for both Kokoity and Bibilov. Kokoity was quoted by the Russian daily "Moskovsky komsomolets" the following day as flatly ruling out the possibility of a woman becoming South Ossetian president.
"Women are treated well in our society and they are respected, but the Caucasus is the Caucasus," he said.
Specter Of A Civil War
Bibilov, for his part, construed the outcome as a massive vote of no-confidence in Kokoity. At the same time, he implied that Dzhioyeva, a former education minister and an articulate, if not particularly charismatic speaker, is not an independent political figure, but a puppet in the hands of others.
Bibilov even raised the specter of a civil war in the event of a Dzhioyeva victory. "There are people in South Ossetia ready to take up arms and head for the forest [to fight a guerrilla war] if the people behind Dzhioyeva come to power," he warned.
Dzhioyeva's most influential backers are former South Ossetian Defense Minister Lieutenant General Anatoly Barankevich and Russian freestyle wrestling team trainer Djambolat Tedeyev.
Tedeyev, who is reportedly hugely popular, threw his support behind Dzhioyeva after he himself was denied registration as a presidential candidate.
At the same time, Bibilov is making every effort to demonstrate, first, that he is no one's pawn, and second, that the outgoing authorities are yesterday's men.
Dzhioyeva Supporters Remain Upbeat
Bibilov has also pledged to bring to trial those responsible for embezzling much of the billions of rubles Moscow allocated for the reconstruction of infrastructure damaged or destroyed during the August 2008 war that culminated in Russia's formal recognition of the breakaway region as an independent state.
Dzhioyeva's backers, however, seem upbeat, and even regard Medvedev's endorsement of Bibilov as a joke.
Elina Marzoyeva, the chairman of Tedeyev's National Front of South Ossetia, commented that "only a candidate with little confidence in himself, and the gentlemen from Moscow who have even less confidence in his chances of winning, would undertake such incredible efforts."
A poll conducted by the opposition website uasamonga.ru suggests the Dzhioyeva camp has every reason to be upbeat.
Of 580 respondents to date, 498 (85.9 percent) said they will vote for Dzhioyeva and only 82 (14.1 percent) for Bibilov. On the other hand, the election outcome could be determined by cautious voters who may equate Bibilov with stability and, above all, with continued financial aid from Moscow.