The post-election stand-off in South Ossetia between rightful winner Alla Dzhioyeva and the authorities seemed to come to an end with the agreement reached on Friday 9 December. However, while most of the agreement’s letter was adhered to, its spirit was violated.
As provisioned, Alla Dzhioyeva called on her supporters to stop their protests, she called off her inauguration and she publicly accepted the Supreme Court’s decision to declare the election invalid and to schedule a March rerun, in exchange for her being allowed to participate therein. However, while President Kokoity did as agreed dismiss Chief Prosecutor Taimuraz Khugayev and Chairman of the Supreme Court Atsamaz Bichenov, ratification of these dismissals was voted down on Wednesday 15 December by Parliament, controlled by Kokoity’s Unity party. Furthermore, Kokoity appointed several of his allies to the cabinet and to a newly resurrected Constitutional Court. Finally, neither Dzhioyeva nor any of her allies were appointed to the government, although it is unclear whether this was part of the final agreement.
While these actions prompted Dzhioyeva’s supporters to resume protests, these seem to have been half-hearted at best. Dzhioyeva herself raised Kokoity’s violations of the agreement with its guarantor, the Russian Embassy, but was rebuffed. It appears then that despite the fact that she has received far less out of the deal than she had hoped for, Dzhioyeva has resigned herself to a repeat election. The biggest worry for her is whether the election will be as fair as the first time and whether at least the clause that guarantees her right to participate in the rerun will be honoured. In this respect, it is especially worrying that the Head of the Supreme Court has remained in place and that Kokoity now also has allies of his control a Constitutional Court. In addition, March is a long time away and Dzhioyeva may find it hard to rekindle public outrage when her participation is ruled out in February.
That said, the deal did achieve one thing for Dzhioyeva. Kokoity resigned as President on Saturday 10 December (3 days after his term formally expired) and was replaced by Prime Minister Vadim Brovtsev who is Acting President until a new President is sworn in. Brovtsev is Russia’s man, and certainly not a friend of Kokoity’s. That means that as before, South Ossetia is still facing a three-way struggle. Russia controls the Presidency and can exert strong external pressure. Kokoity controls the institutions (Parliament, Supreme and Constitutional Court) and thus the legal playing field. The opposition has the people’s support and it is the only side with a credible candidate.
At the moment, Kokoity’s position looks strongest, which is a remarkable come-back given that none of the original election’s second round’s candidates were his. But the struggle can probably be won by any two sides that decide to cooperate. It is unlikely that this will be Kokoity and the opposition, so it is up to Russia to make up its mind as to whether it prefers a continuation of Kokoity’s corrupt and ineffectual regime, or it is prepared to admit its past mistakes and give the opposition a chance.