Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
South Ossetia Vote Descends into Stand-Off
Poster for Alla Jioyeva, who preliminary results showed won the South Ossetian presidential ballot. The authorities promptly cancelled the election. (Photo: Zarina Sanakoeva)
Anatoly Bibilov had the current South Ossetian president’s blessing and support from Russia’s Vladimir Putin, so the authorities were surprised when they found he had lost. (Photo: Zarina Sanakoeva)
Demonstrators occupy a square in central Tskhinval to demand recognition of Alla Jioyeva’s election win. (Photo: Zarina Sanakoeva)
Protestors with a placard showing Alla Jioyeva’s decisive election victory. (Photo: Zarina Sanakoeva)
Supporters of a candidate who was well ahead in South Ossetia’s presidential election before the vote was annulled are continuing to occupy a central square in the Tskhinval demanding recognition of her victory.
Preliminary results showed that Alla Jioyeva won the run-off poll by a clear margin, beating Kremlin-backed candidate Anatoly Bibilov.
The outcome caused alarm in Moscow, which recognised South Ossetia as independent after the 2008 Russian-Georgian conflict there, and is the source of most of its revenues.
A day after the November 27 ballot, the Supreme Court of South Ossetia annulled the election result, and two hours later parliament set March 25 as the date for a fresh election. Jioyeva’s supporters in Tskhinval, and a large proportion of the South Ossetian population, strongly opposed holding another vote.
“What elections? No one will go and vote,” protesters chanted, some of whom held up signs telling the authorities to “respect the people’s choice” and saying, “we are people, not idiots”. Other placards simply showed the election result – nearly 16,500 votes for Jiyoeva against Bibilov’s 11,300.
Bibilov had the endorsement of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party, and was backed by outgoing South Ossetian president Eduard Kokoity and his Unity Party.
Neither election monitors nor South Ossetia’s electoral commission recorded abuses in either the run-off or the November 13 first-round election. Bibilov’s campaign team claimed electoral fraud only after emerging results showed that he was losing.
Kokoity’s Unity Party lodged an appeal with the Supreme Court early on November 28, arguing that both campaigners for Jioyeva and members of the election body were responsible for irregularities.
By then supporters of Jioyeva, a former education minister, were already celebrating her victory. Some 2,000 marched through Tskinval, in the largest demonstration anyone could remember since the 1991-92 separatist war against Georgia.
Irina Gagloeva, head of the Ir media centre, told IWPR the situation on Theatre Square, scene of the pro-Jioyev demonstration, was now close to breaking point.
“I can see people who voted for Bibilov – now they are here. They think that once the majority makes its choice, that has to be respected,” she said. “By every indicator, our election was held to the highest standards. Those who are unhappy with the outcome [Jioyev’s win] are doing all they can to discredit our people and the choice they made.”
Even some high-profile supporters of Bibilov have said publicly that they believe the Supreme Court ruling was unlawful. Merab Chigoev, who stood as a candidate in the first round but withdrew his bid and backed Bibilov instead, said the level of election fraud was not sufficient to alter the oucome.
“The results are shattering for Bibilov’s team, in which I included myself,” he said. “I don’t know what basis the court used for its ruling, but according to the information at my disposal, it did bit have grounds for such a tough decision. They would have needed evidence as hard as reinforced concrete. Did the court have this? I very much doubt it.”
Chigoev, who is a member of South Ossetia’s parliament, said his fellow-lawmakers’ decision to call another election was “hasty”.
Despite the criticism, Kokoity and other officials showed no signs of backing down. On October 30, Kokoity urged the demonstrators to disperse and promised that they would not be arrested and that none of Jioyeva’s supporters would be harmed. The protesters ignored him.
Kosta Dzugaev, an adviser to Kokoity, said Jioyeva would not be allowed to stand again as it was her fault the vote had been annulled, so a new candidate would have to be found.
Supreme Court chairman Atsamaz Bichenov promised to review the ruling on December 5, but Jioyeva refused to wait that long.
The Kremlin sent the deputy head of the presidential administration, Sergei Vinokurov, to Tskhinval to help mediate in the dispute, but so far this has not produced any results.
Many public figures in South Ossetia have spoken out against the decision to cancel the election.
Yuri Dzitsoyti, deputy speaker of the South Ossetian parliament, said that no one had the right to overrule the people’s choice. The only way forward, he said, was for the Supreme Court to reverse its decision.
“I think everything that happened in the court was illegal; it was invented,” Dzitsoyti said. “Before the election ended, the current president gave us reason to suspect he arranged this, when he said we would not be getting a female president. Why did he say that?”
Zarina Sanakoeva works for RFE/RL.
- Europe & Eurasia
- Latin America
- Middle East & North Africa
- Focus Pages
- Training & Resources
- Print Publications
- IWPR Spotlight
As coronavirus sweeps the globe, IWPR’s network of local reporters, activists and analysts are examining the economic, social and political impact of this era-defining pandemic.