Tskhinvali holds Presidential elections
By Ernest Petrosyan
Monday, November 14
The Georgian breakaway region of South Ossetia held presidential elections on Sunday. According to the Central Election Commission CEC the elections went through since more than fifty percent of the electorate voted, despite snowy weather in Tskhinvali. As the head of South Ossetia's CEC, Bella Pliyeva, said, the number of candidates running for President shrunk to 11, after 6 candidates decided to withdraw their bids.
The initial number of candidates was disproportionate for a region with a population of only about 40,000. Some candidates withdrew from the race and several others were barred from running, including several of Kokoity’s fiercest opponents. Among the latter group was a Russian national free-style wrestling team trainer, Jambolat Tedeev, who was barred by the CEC from running on the grounds of failing to meet the 10-year residency requirement. The decision triggered street protests by supporters, followed by a series of arrests. Finally Tedeev announced he would support an opposition candidate, Alla Jioyeva, former Education Minister of the breakaway region, who said that she decided to run after all “the heavyweight” opposition candidates were barred from running.
Moscow supported the Minister for Emergency Situations of the breakaway region, Anatoly Bibilov, believed to be successful in his bid for the Presidential office. In August the Russian daily Kommersant reported that Bibilov would be the Kremlin’s pick as next leader of South Ossetia. Russian lawmakers visited the region this month, openly campaigning in favor of Bibilov. “When some ask why Russia puts a stake on Bibilov, the question arises as to why shouldn't they put their stakes on me? Russia invests funds in the development of our state. And why can't such a strategic partner give its preference to anyone?” Bibilov said on October 14. “I accept it with gratitude and understand that this is a show of huge confidence towards me”, he said.
The current Head of the puppet regime, Eduard Kokoity, however, assessed such open support as “excessive interference in the internal affairs” of South Ossetia. “These are the most shameful elections in the history of the young Republic of South Ossetia. The participation of some candidates with immoral pasts discredits these elections. Excessive interference in internal affairs of our state and attempts to split our society will not lead to anything good,” he said on November 3, without elaborating on details.
It is still obscure as to whom Kokoity himself is really supporting. Although publicly he and his ruling party announced support for Bibilov, some opponents assume that tacitly he supports other candidates, particularly Georgi Kabisov, head of the State Committee for Information and Communications and Alan Kotaev, Deputy Head of Tskhinvali administration.
Kokoity, de facto President of the region since 2001, is no longer eligible for a third term according to the Constitution, and will step down after the elections.
Kokoity is unlikely to exit from the local political scene however. His opponents claim that Kokoity, elected as the ruling Unity party’s chairman in September, is plotting a return to power by becoming Parliamentary speaker. A scenario in which the sitting parliament will be disbanded after the presidential elections is widely speculated in Tskhinvali. Simultaneously with the elections, the puppet regime is holding a referendum regarding the adoption of the Russian language as the second official language of the region.
According to analyst Mamuka Areshidze the favorite in the presidential race is definitely Moscow’s candidate Anatoly Bibilov. “Putin even sent a letter welcoming Bibilov’s candidacy as President. It is also less likely the elections to end in one round only, since the votes are going to be spread thin due to many candidates involved. The picture will be clearer in the second round” Areshidze told The Messenger.