Voters in Georgia’s breakaway region of South Ossetia will go to polls on March 25 to elect new leader – a third attempt since November, when the race went into runoff, won by an opposition candidate Alla Jioyeva, but its results were annulled prompting street protests.
None of the key former candidates – Alla Jioyeva and Anatoly Bibilov, who was supported by ex-South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity and openly backed by the Kremlin – are running in the repeat elections, which is a race between four contenders.
Runoff will take place if neither of four candidates garners more than half of the votes in the Sunday’s polls.
Two candidates are believed to be frontrunners in the race – the breakaway region’s long-time envoy to Moscow Dmitry Medoev and ex-chief of security service Leonid Tibilov.
Two other candidates are: a special envoy for human rights issues David Sanakoev and leader of the communist party Stanislav Kochiev.
One of the candidates, David Sanakoev, said there was a high probability of a second round.
In their rhetoric during the campaigning the candidates were distancing themselves from ex-South Ossetian leader, Eduard Kokoity, who is believed to retain a significant political influence in the region although stepping down from the post of president in December after ten-year rule.
During one of the debates two of the frontrunner candidates, Medoev and Tibilov, have even accused each other of being affiliated with “Kokoity’s clan”.
Tibilov ran in 2006 presidential election in which Kokoity won over 98% of votes.
Tibilov is seen to be better positioned to attract votes of Alla Jioyeva’s supporters, because Tibilov’s nomination was endorsed by former Russian free-style-wrestling team trainer, Jambolat Tedeev, who is a fierce opponent of ex-South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity and who was supporting Jioyeva’s candidacy in the November elections.
Jioyeva has refused to endorse any of the four candidates.
She was planning to hold self-inauguration on February 10, condemning planned repeat election on March 25 as illegitimate; but a day earlier, on February 9, she was hospitalized after her office was, as her supporters said, “raided” by the law enforcement officers. Since then Jioyeva had remained actually isolated from politics and stayed in hospital under the police guard – condition, which Jioyeva and her supporters called as “being under hospital arrest”.
Jioyeva was released from hospital on March 24.
Although Jioyeva denounced Sunday’s polls as illegal, she has not called on her supporters to boycott the repeat elections.
“[Call] for boycott would have contributed to further split within the South Ossetian society, which of course is extremely undesirable,” she said, adding that when asked by supporters whether to turn out at polling stations or not, she was advising them to cast ballot.
She said in an interview with RFE/RL’s Russian-language service, Ekho Kavkaza, on March 23 that she had “no right” to support any of the candidates now, because back in 2001 she was campaigning for ex-South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity, who failed to deliver with his promises, which, she said, promoted her into opposition. Jioyeva also said, that she had no chance to thoroughly study candidate’s election programs, because of her “isolation”.
She also said that all four candidates running for presidency “have been thoroughly selected” by “certain forces”.
Vice-speaker of parliament in breakaway region, Yuri Dzitsoiti, said last month that only those candidates remained on ballot papers “who have been agreed in Moscow”.
Elections in the breakaway region are denounced as illegitimate by Tbilisi and the international community, except of Russia and few other countries, which have recognized South Ossetia and Georgia’s another breakaway region of Abkhazia.