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No Clear Favorite In Repeat South Ossetian Election

People pass by campaign posters in Tskhinvali displaying presidential candidates in South Ossetia's March 25 repeat election.
People pass by campaign posters in Tskhinvali displaying presidential candidates in South Ossetia's March 25 repeat election.
Tensions are rising in the run-up to the March 25 repeat election for the post of the de facto president of the Republic of South Ossetia despite Moscow's efforts to ensure that the repeat ballot does not degenerate into a protracted new political crisis such as followed the original ballot in November. Of 22 would-be candidates, the Central Election Commission (TsIK) registered only four, all of them reportedly backed by, or at least acceptable to, the Russian leadership.

The four registered candidates are: former Soviet-era South Ossetian KGB Chairman Leonid Tibilov; human rights ombudsman David Sanakoyev; de facto ambassador to Moscow Dmitry Medoyev; and Communist Party of South Ossetia chairman and former parliament speaker Stanislav Kochiyev. None of them participated in November's abortive election.

By contrast, not a single potential candidate from the entourage of former de facto President Eduard Kokoity succeeded in registering. Alla Djioyeva, the opposition candidate whose victory in the November 27 runoff the breakaway republic's Supreme Court swiftly annulled, refused to participate in the repeat election on the grounds that agreeing to do so would be tantamount to recognizing the legality of that annulment. Two of Djioyeva's closest associates likewise decided against participating in the March 25 vote for the same reason.

A group of Djioyeva's supporters proposed the candidacy of former parliament deputy Sergei Zasseyev, but he was refused registration on the grounds of irregularities among the signatures he collected in his support.

Parliament deputy speaker Yury Dzitstsoity, who backed Djioyeva in her standoff with Kokoity in December, was likewise refused registration.

Djioyeva's plans to proceed despite the annulment with her inauguration on February 10 as legally elected president were thwarted by security personnel who forced their way into her headquarters the previous evening and manhandled her so brutally that she had to be hospitalized. She remains under armed guard in a Tskhinvali clinic.

Three candidates close to Kokoity withdrew their applications for registration for reasons that remain unclear. They are former South Ossetian Deputy Defense Minister Igor Alborov; former State Media Committee Chairman Georgy Kabisov, who placed sixth in the November ballot with 7.62 percent of the vote; and Kokoity's representative in the republican parliament, Tarzan Kokoity. (It's not clear whether they are related.)

The remaining 15 either failed the mandatory Ossetian language examination or the TsIK barred them on the grounds of purported irregularities in the lists of signatures they submitted in support of their registration applications.

Of the four registered candidates, the Georgian website identified Medoyev as the favorite. His political credo is clearly formulated in such a way as to appeal to those voters whose loathing of Kokoity's inept and allegedly corrupt leadership team led them to cast their ballots for Djioyeva in November.

In a recent interview, Medoyev singled out as "the most important task" restoring the population's trust in the republic's leaders. He called for an uncompromising struggle against corruption, arguing that "officials should be held accountable for every ruble they spend, and those who have condoned embezzlement should be severely punished."

Medoyev further advocated creating a special commission to investigate how the outgoing leadership brought South Ossetia "to the verge of civil war" after the November election by its efforts "to cling to power."

He said that if elected, he intends to "show what can accomplished" in terms of rebuilding infrastructure destroyed or damaged during the August 2008 war with Georgia "if a stop is put to embezzlement and funds are spent honestly."

But the other candidates' programs too lambaste the dismal legacy of Kokoity's decade in power: the polarization of society between Kokoity's privileged clique and the population at large; the total lack of democracy and transparency; economic stagnation and total financial dependence on Russia; and the embezzlement of most of the funds made available from the Russian budget for post-conflict reconstruction.

Tibilov, for example, affirmed that the failure use more effectively the funds Russia allocated has engendered among the population the perception that the outgoing leadership has destroyed more than it created.

Sanakoyev for his part argued that there should be one set of laws and rights for everyone, and that the president as guarantor of the constitution should ensure that society is not split along clan or political lines.

The one issue on which the candidates diverge is the crucial one of foreign policy, specifically South Ossetia's relations with Russia. Medoyev and Tibilov both single out as their top priority securing broad recognition by the international community of South Ossetia as an independent state. At the same time, both stress that Russia is South Ossetia's main strategic partner.

Kochiyev by contrast calls for the unification within the Russian Federation of South Ossetia and the neighboring Republic of North Ossetia.

When the election campaign kicked off three weeks ago, Medoyev, Tibilov and Sanakoyev signed live on TV a five-point pledge to ensure the elections are honest and fair. Specifically, they undertook not to spread unverified information or deliberately damaging and untrue allegations against each other. In violation of that agreement, however, Tibilov has accused Medoyev of acting as a stalking horse for Kokoity.

Djioyeva has said publicly she does not endorse any of the four candidates, but some members of her campaign team, including Zasseyev, are backing Tibilov as the only one candidate who did not occupy a senior position during the 10 years of Kokoity's presidency. Whether voters who in November cast their ballots for Djioyeva will transfer their support to Tibilov, or whether this election too will go to a run-off, is difficult to predict.

RFE/RL's Ekho Kavkaza quoted Roland Kelekhsayev, head of the extraparliamentary People's Party, as saying many voters are unable to figure out which political group is backing which candidate, and may therefore not vote at all. Kelekhsayev noted that while the TsIK printed 53,000 ballot papers for the November election, this time it has printed only 40,000 for an estimated 38,000 voters, possibly in order to ensure the minimum turnout for the election to be valid.

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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