By Gana Yanovskaya
A presidential election in South Ossetia this weekend is likely to be inconclusive, requiring a second round of voting before the Caucasian republic has a new head of state. The final contest is likely to pit the South Ossetian ambassador to Moscow against a former KGB general.
This election is a rerun, overshadowed by a stand-off created by the original poll in November. Opposition candidate Alla Jioyeva emerged as the clear winner then, but the authorities annulled the result when it became clear their favoured candidate had lost.
After Jioyeva’s supporters took to the streets, a deal was reached where veteran president Eduard Kokoity agreed to stand down but the opposition agreed to hold the election again. Although Kokoity did resign, the deal broke down when Jioyeva said the authorities had broken their side of the bargain.
Neither Jioyeva nor her rival in November, Anatoly Bibilov, is standing this time. Of the four candidates, three are seen as close to Kokoity – human rights ombudsman David Sanakoev; Dmitry Medoev, the envoy to Moscow, and Communist Party leader Stanislav Kochiev.
Only Leonid Tibilov, a former general in the KGB, is seen as independent of the authorities.
Kosta Dzugaev, a political analyst working for the government, sees Tibilov and Medoyev as the front-runners, who will probably end up facing each other in a second round.
“I think that’s the consensus view,” he said. “It’s hard to predict who will win, but by all appearances, the electorate is divided between these two individuals.”.
Although Jioyeva has not lent her backing to any of the candidates, many of her supporters and most other opposition figures are behind Tibilov. Among them is Sergei Zasseev, a Jioyeva ally who was originally nominated to stand in this election himself.
“The situation has been on the verge of catastrophe at many points during the last month. The nation is disunited. The current government hasn’t let many people through [as presidential candidates],” Zasseyev said. “Today we need someone who has many years on his shoulders, a brave individual, and I see Leonid Tibilov as such a person.”
Many voters are impressed Tibilov’s past record, in particular his lack of a close association with the Kokoity administration.
“Unlike the other pretenders for the post, Tibilov hasn’t been in government for many years,” Madina Mamieva, a voter in the South Ossetian capital Tskhinval, said. “He’s been under pressure from ex-president Kokoity for the last four years, and they even tried to prosecute him. We know for sure that this candidate isn’t tied in to the current regime.”
Tibilov has made much of Kokoity’s animosity towards him, saying, “As soon as he came to power, I fell out of favour.”
Although seen as close to government, Medoyev, too, has sought to distance himself from Kokoity, whose image was harmed by the post-election protests in November and by his allies’ failure to abide by the deal they made with Jioyeva.
As he told voters, “I promise you that if I’m elected president, one of my first decisions would be to seek the dissolution of parliament, which is now an institution that stands in opposition to the people, and is controlled by [former chief prosecutor Taimuraz] Khugaev and Kokoity,” he said.
This approach has won Medoyev some support from opposition-minded groups like the Fidibasta and Social Democratic parties and the Union of Ex-Combatants.
Yury Vazagov, a political columnist with the newspaper South Ossetia, said all four candidates would be trying to position themselves to capture at least some of the opposition vote.
“Pre-election alliances are a temporary thing…. We are talking about a protest vote here,” he said. “Very disparate forces have come together in pursuit of a common goal. But of course each force is pursuing its own interests.”
Gana Yanovskaia is an IWPR-trained journalist in South Ossetia. This article was published at IWPR’s CRS Issue 635.