November 12 will see two simultaneous polls in breakaway South Ossetia, which could lead to the emergence of two self-imposed Presidents in the tiny region.
Incumbent de facto South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity will most likely be re-elected as the president of the breakaway region in the November 12 presidential polls. At the same time, ex-South Ossetian prime minister and Kokoity foe Dimitri Sanakoev could also become president of the region, as he appears to be the favorite in the elections dubbed as “alternative,” which are believed to be held with Tbilisi’s blessing.
Previous elections, both presidential and parliamentary, in breakaway South Ossetia have only been held in the capital Tskhinvali and villages controlled by the secessionist authorities. The same will happen on November 12.
Alternative polls, managed by the Salvation Union of Ossetians – a Tbilisi-backed non-governmental organization set up by ethnic Ossetians who are outspoken critics of Kokoity – will mainly cover those South Ossetia villages that are under Tbilisi’s control. Some of these villages have a mixed population of Georgians and Ossetians. The Central Election Commission of the alternative polls is located in the Georgian village of Eredvi in the conflict zone.
Tbilisi is trying to distance itself from the so-called alternative elections with the official line that they are as illegal as those managed by the secessionist authorities.
“But the Georgian authorities will not create any obstacles to these alternative polls,” influential Georgian lawmaker Givi Targamadze, who chairs the Defense and Security Parliamentary Committee, said.
Four candidates are running in the presidential polls of the unrecognized republic: Eduard Kokoity, Oleg Gabodze, Inal Pukhaev and Leonid Tibilov. The latter two are officials in Kokoity’s government, while no information is available about Gabodze. It is believed that the other candidates were nominated with the approval of Kokoity himself to give the race a contested nature.
Five candidates will run in the alternative polls: Maia Chigoeva-Tsaboshvili, Giogi Chigoev, Teimuraz Jeragoev, Tamar Charaeva and Dimitri Sanakoev. There are signs that the latter is Tbilisi’s favorite.
Sanakoev’s election 'campaign,' mainly involving pre-election meetings with the local population of Georgian-controlled villages in the conflict zone, is being extensively covered by all the major Georgian television stations. TV footage of Sanakoev, accompanied by well-armed guards and traversing by-pass roads to Georgian villages to the north of Tskhinvali in a luxurious off-road vehicle, have become an integral part of recent Georgian TV news programs. Feature stories about Sanakoev were also recently broadcasted by the two popular weekly programs aired on Imedi and Rustavi 2 television stations.
Sanakoev’s political TV ads are broadcasted by the Tbilisi-based Russian-language Alania television (which was launched in late 2005 especially for South Ossetian viewers) calling for voters to mark Sanakoev’s number 5 on their ballot papers on November 12. Five has been the traditional number of the ruling National Movement party in all the recent elections held in Georgia.
Dimitri Sanakoev, 37, was defense minister and then prime minister of breakaway South Ossetia for several months in 2001 when the region was run by de facto President Lyudvig Chibirov. But Sanakoev left for Russia after Eduard Kokoity took over power in the breakaway region after the November 2001 presidential elections.
In June 2001, when Chibirov promoted Sanakoev on the post of prime minister, the Russian press reported that Sanakoev was a highly-respected figure in South Ossetia because of his active participation in fighting against Georgian forces in the early 90s.
“The Ossetian people should realize their way towards independence. Independence exists only when people are able to express their opinions freely,” Sanakoev said in a recent public address to voters. In his speeches Sanakoev focuses on allegations that Kokoity’s regime stays in power through terrorizing the population.
Authorities in breakaway South Ossetia worry that the alternative polls might turn into a major headache, as they could lead to the creation of a Tbilisi-backed government on South Ossetian territory – similar to the one that has been established in the Tbilisi-controlled upper Kodori Gorge in breakaway Abkhazia.
Eduard Kokoity reiterated several times recently that the Tbilisi-backed alternative presidential polls aim at “dividing the Ossetian people.”
Mutual accusations about anticipated provocations on November 12 dominate politics in South Ossetia on the eve of elections. Secessionist authorities say that the Georgian side will mastermind terrorist acts to thwart elections. Similar accusations are voiced by the activists from the Salvation Union of Ossetians, who claim that Kokoity’s regime will itself orchestrate disorders and explosions at polling stations in order to then blame the Georgian authorities.