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Analysis, book reviews and photography from Abkhazia and the wider Caucasus — updates when time permits

Five tests for Raul Khajimba

Today, Raul Khajimba was inaugurated as the fourth President of Abkhazia — fifth if one counts Acting President Valeri Bganba. His first-round victory may have been very narrow, with 50.60% of the votes, but it was clear that he would otherwise have won the run-off against Aslan Bzhania, who only scored 35,88%.

The election served as something of an ex post facto legitimation of the May Revolution. Because it went down so easily, it was unclear whether Ankvab’s forced resignation really enjoyed the support of most Abkhazians. But this test at the ballot box was somewhat hampered by the fact that the old government was represented by Bzhania (even though he was careful to emphasise that he would not just leave everything unchanged if he were elected). His campaign was well-funded and active, but Bzhania suffered from three disadvantages. First, he was not a widely known political figure, serving as Head of the Security Service and having lived in Moscow before that. Second, the opposition managed to cast serious doubt on the legitimacy of his candidacy, arguing that he did not fulfill the five-year residency requirement since he had worked at the Embassy in Moscow until four and a half years ago. And third, Bzhania’s claim that he had worked for the Security Service throughout the 1992–1993 war with Georgia was questioned, which weakened his patriotic credentials. In order to defeat Khajimba, Ankvab’s team would have had to nominate either someone with more standing in society, which would have been quite difficult, or a young face who would have been able to outflank the opposition on its agenda of change.

That said, Khajimba has inspired enthusiasm among voters and has received a real popular mandate (of the four candidates, Khajimba managed to rally by far the most support from political parties and civil society groupings). In a certain way, the Khajimba-led coalition’s talk of reform reminds one (in both the good and the bad sense) of the revolutionary fervour of Mikhail Saakashvili’s post-Rose Revolution coalition — ironic, given that Khajimba was the establishment’s losing candidate in Abkhazia’s own 2004 Tangerine Revolution.

Abkhazia’s very weak economy and administration and the hostility and indifference of most countries other than Russia mean that Khajimba may find that he won’t be able to do things much differently than Ankvab. Building up Abkhazia’s economy, establishing an efficient government and eradicating corruption certainly are long-term projects. In the short-term, Khajimba’s transition from opposition leader to statesman will be put to a number of smaller tests:

  • The opposition has said that its goal is not simply to fill all government positions with members from its own ranks, and that Ministers who were performing well could stay on. Khajimba should honour this pledge when he appoints the new cabinet.
  • One of the opposition’s major grievances was what it perceived to be the illegal distribution of Abkhazian passports to Georgian residents who also hold on to their Georgian citizenship. After the May Revolution, the opposition-controlled Parliament very dubiously removed Georgian residents from the electoral roll until their citizenship is re-evaluated. This re-evaluation should be held quickly, most Georgians should retain their Abkhazian citizenship and there should be a clear perspective towards citizenship for the rest.
    Khajimba has also criticised Ankvab for not solving delays at Abkhazia’s single border crossing with Russia, while building additional border crossings with Georgia. However, this latter fact really counts among Ankvab’s achievements, and Khajimba ought not to close down again these new crossings, as he has announced he may do.
  • During the campaign the opposition repeatedly criticised Central Election Commission Head Batal Tabagua, for allowing Bzhania’s registration, because the electoral rolls contained many dead or otherwise suspect entries, which Tabagua claimed the CEC could not be held responsible for, and because he refused to remove from the electoral roll before Parliament had created a legal basis those Georgian whom the opposition claimed had been given passports illegally. Essentially, the opposition was worried that Tabagua would allow election fraud in favour of Bzhania. During the height of the passport-row, it demanded his resignation, and four days before the election, a grenade was thrown into the yard of his house (causing damage but no injuries). Now that he is President, Khajimba could try to replace Tabagua by filling (directly and through Parliament) the CEC with allies, but he should refrain from politicising this body. (To Tabagua’s credit, the elections under his supervision have been quite fair.)
  • The trial of the suspects of multiple assassination attempts against Ankvab should continue until a verdict is reached that stands up to scrutiny. In the event that the suspects are acquitted, the investigation should continue. What is worrying in this regard is that one of the main suspects, Almasbei Kchach, who committed suicide when police came to arrest him in 2012, was running mate of current Prime Minister-designate Beslan Butba in the 2009 Presidential election (Kchach and Khajimba have also been members of the same government under President Vladislav Ardzinba).
  • One problem with Beslan Butba’s candidacy for President in 2009 was that he also owned Abkhazia’s only private TV station, Abaza TV. Now that Butba will almost certainly become Prime Minister, this is once more a relevant issue. Even though in the intervening years, internet has become an additional news source for many, Abaza TV must not become a government mouthpiece. (It should be noted that it was Ankvab who finally allowed the extension of the broadcast area of Abaza TV beyond Sukhum to the whole territory of Abkhazia.) Moreover, now that he is President, Khajimba should strengthen the independence and professionalism of the state TV channel, as the opposition has repeatedly demanded during the last couple of years.

Filed under: Abkhazia, Elections, , , , ,

2014 Abkhazia Presidential election guide

I have created an overview of the upcoming Presidential election in Abkhazia. Not here, but at Wikipedia, where it can be continuously updated and where others can contribute as well.

Of the candidates that were originally nominated, outgoing Vice Premier Beslan Eshba failed to pass the Abkhaz language test. The four remaining candidates are opposition leaders Raul Khajimba and Leonid Dzapshba, outgoing Head of the State Security Service Aslan Bzhania and outgoing Defence Minister Mirab Kishmaria. Most radically opposed are Khajimba, who lead the protests that brought down President Alexander Ankvab, and Bzhania, who represents the old government and who has called the storming of the Presidential Administration criminal. In light of the diverging opinions regarding Ankvab’s ouster, this may very well become the first Abkhazian Presidential election to require a run-off.

It will be interesting to see to what extent Kishmaria will manage to assume the role of an apolitical candidate representing moderation. At campaign meetings he has stressed ethnic harmony, while as one of Abkhazia’s foremost war-time commanders his patriotic credentials are beyond doubt. Should Kishmaria reach a run-off, this position could hand him a surprising victory.

Dzapshba seems to be the weakest candidate of the four. While Khajimba played a leading role in the protests against Ankvab and has managed to secure most of the opposition’s support, Dzapshba has decided to go it alone. He is also hampered by the fact that while one of the opposition’s major complaints is government corruption, Dzapshba is one of the very few officials of the Bagapsh-Ankvab era to have been dismissed and prosecuted for corruption, even if the process never reached a verdict and may have been politically motivated to begin with. Tellingly, Dzapshba participated in the by-election to Parliament following Eshba’s appointment as Vice Premier, but only managed to finish third. His goal now may be to score a decent percentage and to trade his support in an eventual run-off for an influential position.

Filed under: Abkhazia, Elections, Wikipedia, , , , ,

Ankvab accepts resignation — what next?

One week ago, Alexander Ankvab was still President of Abkhazia, and while the opposition had announced protests for the 27th, nothing indicated his days in office were numbered. But the protests triggered a national crisis, and a mere five days later, Ankvab’s position had become so weak that he was left with no other choice but to resign, followed a day later by Prime Minister Leonid Lakerbaia.

In retrospect, it is possible to identify two crucial events that led to this outcome. When protesters stormed the Presidential Administration on the 27th, Ankvab fled to the Russian military base in Gudauta. This was a visible sign of weakness. It allowed the opposition to claim Ankvab had deserted his post, and it prevented him from addressing the population and from directing his government. Secondly, the opposition secured the support of Parliament, which gave it a crucial degree of legitimacy.

In a certain light, what happened in these five days is quite amazing. When was the last time a President was overthrown by a popular uprising so swiftly, and without a drop of blood being spilled?

On closer inspection, not all is well. It certainly was a tactical mistake of Ankvab to flee to Gudauta, but Ankvab more than others has reason to worry about his safety, having survived no less than six assassination attempts. So when government representatives say they had concrete information about a plan to murder Ankvab when the Presidential Administration was stormed, and later again when he intended to return to Sukhum, this is credible, providing some justification for Ankvab’s behaviour and casting a shadow over the peaceful nature of the protests.

The role of Parliament is also somewhat questionable. It had the right to pass a motion of no-confidence in the Prime Minister Lakerbaia and to call upon Ankvab to resign. But it overstepped its authority when, after Ankvab refused to agree to this, it proceeded to appoint its Speaker Valeri Bganba as acting President. Originally, only 19 of Parliament’s 35 members met. The opposition then apparently managed to win over some pro-government MPs to its side, raising the number to 24, enough for a constitutional majority. But the constitution requires that in case of impeachment, a claim that the President has failed to fulfill his duties is confirmed by the Constitutional Court, which it was not.

Finally, it is far from clear whether Ankvab’s resignation is right. His government did not use force against protesters, and the opposition does not seem to have accused Ankvab personally of corruption. That charge may hold water against other government members, but most opposition leaders have previously held office in governments that were likewise corrupt and incompetent. Perhaps most importantly, Ankvab was elected with a comfortable majority, defeating the current opposition leaders, and it is not evident that the country as a whole supports his immediate resignation.

The election has been set for 24 August, and it promises to be very competitive, as there will be no government candidate who may be seen by voters as the ‘default’ choice. Nevertheless, there is a risk that it will simply be a re-run of the 2011 election.

The opposition consists of a broad range of politicians, and it may not present a single candidate. Riding on the success of these protests, Raul Khajimba will certainly not want to miss his best chance of becoming President since 2004, even if for the moment he is careful to explain that he will first have to consult with his supporters. But this is also a golden opportunity for Sergei Shamba. When in 2011, as outgoing Prime Minister, he came second, it seemed to have been his last attempt, as he would have been over the constitutionally mandated maximum age of 65 at the time of the next election. After his defeat, he announced his retirement from politics, but in practice he has joined the opposition and has now been handed one more chance. He may try to present himself as a compromise candidate. But for the same reason that he is the ‘safe’ choice, Shamba in particular is not likely to fight hard against corruption, or to strongly defend Abkhazia’s interests vis-à-vis Russia.

A very important question is to what extent Russia played an active role in this revolution, with the purpose of bringing into power people who would then give in to Russia’s demands where Ankvab would not. While this cannot be answered with certainty except through direct testimony, the opposition must be judged by its actions if it comes to power.

On the government’s side, the fact that Ankvab did not use force against protesters and his relatively graceful resignation mean that he still has the opportunity to seek vindication at the polls. He should resist that temptation, acknowledge that Abkhazians do have a lot of cause for dissatisfaction and throw his weight behind a younger candidate, although it remains to be seen who that might be.

Abkhazia now has an opportunity to renew itself if it elects into government a set of young reformers. But it could just as well fall back and return to power the strongmen of yesterday.

Filed under: Abkhazia, Elections, , ,

Why is the call to boycott the Sochi Olympics led by TI Georgia and ISFED?

Transparency International Georgia (TI Georgia) and the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED) are spearheading a petition that calls on the Georgian government to boycott the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games. This not on account of the corruption and rights violations during their preparation, but because TI Georgia and ISFED consider that the Russian government is breaking the cease fire agreement that ended the August 2008 war. (A particular source of ire is the fact that one of the Russian pilots of that war who has received the title of National Hero has been chosen to carry the Olympic torch. While he is only one among thousands to be bestowed that honour, his run was prominently shown on Russian state TV.)

Regardless of whether one agrees with the cause, neither should be involved, let alone organise this campaign. Organisations like TI Georgia and ISFED hold the moral high ground because they focus on single ideals (fair elections, no more corruption) that are above debate, so that even governments generally have to pay lip service to them. By branching out into political issues, these organisations become themselves politicised. Instead, they should try to avoid giving the government any sticks to beat them with.

In this particular case, TI Georgia and ISFED also risk distracting from the Georgian Presidential election due in less than two weeks, which deserves all their attention.

Filed under: Elections, Georgia, Human Rights, Russia, , ,

Opposition leader on course to win by-election in Sukhum

Last Sunday’s by-election in constituency no. 1 in Sukhum has been won by opposition leader Daur Arshba, who will compete with former Vice Speaker Irina Agrba in a run-off on 13 July.

The by-election became necessary after the appointment of MP (and businessman) Beslan Eshba to the post of Vice Premier on 30 April. Eshba had very nearly not been an MP himself, since the original election in March 2012 — in which he had not participated — had only been declared invalid after a recount established the turnout to have been 24,9 rather than 25,1%.

While parliamentary elections in Abkhazia have become more and more competitive during the last ten years, the current by-election drew a particular prominent set of candidates. Arshba, who is Chairman of the opposition Forum for the National Unity of Abkhazia, and former Vice Speaker Irina Agrba, were two of the most surprising losers of the 2012 elections and one will now enter Parliament after all. This makes Leonid Dzapshba the principal loser the first round of this by-election, scoring slightly fewer votes than Agrba (650 vs. 601 votes, 20.1 vs. 18.6%). Dzapshba was Interior Minister until the October 2011 inauguration of President Ankvab and is still under investigation for alleged embezzlement while in government, but he has not shied away from public life, recently founding his own opposition movement.

Dzapshba was in turn not too far ahead of Roman Tskua, who came in fourth place with 509 votes. The most disappointing result was perhaps attained by Roland Gamgia, who had won a plurality in the original, invalidated 2012 election, then came in second place in the re-run behind Eshba but who has now only received a paltry 9.9% fifth place. A sixth candidate, Nadir Bitiev, had run in the same constituency as Agrba in 2011 but now withdrew his candidacy shortly before election day. A seventh candidate, Lyuba Ashuba, came in last place with 22 votes (0,7%).

The close result for second place demonstrates the disadvantage of plurality-based electoral system (even with run-off) that the participation of several like-minded candidates can be detrimental to all due to vote-splitting. In the case at hand, Dzapshba and Tskua together gained more votes than winner Arshba (1043, 32.3%). By the same logic, Agrba may still win the run-off if she can get behind her the support of some of the other candidates, although past experience tells us the gap with Arshba is probably too large for that to happen.

Arshba’s present victory shows that the Forum for the National Unity of Abkhazia is gaining strength, following recent protests against rising energy prices and the liberal awarding of passports to Mingrelian residents in Gali District.

Filed under: Abkhazia, Elections, , ,

Venezuela and Russia and flawed democracy

Following Tolstoy we may say that all happy democracies are alike. And probably, so are all totalitarian dictatorships. But all flawed democracies are flawed in their own way, as the Venezuelan Presidential election of last weekend demonstrates.

According to the official result, the election — following the death of Hugo Chávez — was won by Nicolás Maduro. His tiny majority (50.8%) puts paid to the commonly portrayed image of Venezuela in the west as a dictatorship. In comparison, such a close result is unprecedented in Russia, as is the fact that his challenger — Henrique Capriles, who scored 49.0% — is governor of Miranda, Venezuela’s largest state. Elections are fairer in Venezuela than in Russia. The problem with democracy in Venezuela is a weak rule of law and that, between elections, the President has near-dictatorial powers. Actually, these are also Russia’s problems. The difference lies in the fact that while Putin is generally recognised to be the choice of most Russians — however unfairly elections may be conducted — the administrative support Maduro enjoyed combined with even the smallest amount of manipulation make his popular majority dubious.

Filed under: Elections, Russia, Venezuela, ,

Independents defeat prominent politicians in Abkhazia’s parliamentary elections

Last Saturday, on the 10th, Abkhazia held the first round of its fourth parliamentary elections since gaining independence. I have fitted the results into a big table on Wikipedia. The results from constituency 21 are not yet known, due to heavy snow fall, and there will be a rerun in constituency 1 as the 25% turnout threshold was missed by a hair.

These elections fit into a long-term trend: Abkhazian elections have been becoming ever more competitive. 148 candidates competed for just 35 seats, out of a total 156 that had originally been nominated. On average, four candidates competed in each constituency. And while there were five constituencies with just two candidates, there was also one constituency with as many as ten candidates. Accordingly, only 13 candidates won an outright first round majority, and no candidate won more than 75% of the votes cast.

The results are something of an upset, as many prominent politicians lost out to new, independent candidates. This includes a number of experienced MPs, like Communist Party leader Lev Shamba (11%), Chairman of the Human Rights Committee Batal Kobakhia (9%) and Vice-Speaker Sergei Matosyan (25%). Others, like Speaker Nugzar Ashuba (28%), Vice-Speaker Irina Agrba (27%) (a political ally of President Ankvab) and former Gali Governor Ruslan Kishmaria (27%) will have a very tough time winning their second round.

The elections were also disappointing for a number of former government members seeking to become MP. These include Anri Jergenia (22%), Prime Minister under President Ardzinba and once considered his successor, who in recent years supported opposition leader Raul Khajimba. Similarly unsuccessful was Almasbei Kchach (25%), Internal Affairs Minister and Security Council Secretary under Ardzinba, running mate of opposition leader Beslan Butba in 2009 and since then a prominent member of Butba’s Economic Development Party. Or Daur Tarba (9%) and Vakhtang Pipia (15%), both Vice-Premiers under President Bagapsh and the former Chairman of ruling party United Abkhazia. Indeed, opposition leader Raul Khajimba is about the only exception, achieving the highest first round win with 73% of the votes in his constituency — he may very well try to succeed Nugzar Ashuba as Speaker.

In general, all parties appear to have performed badly. The Communist Party saw none of its seven candidates win or even reach the second round. Only one of the six candidates nominated by the Economic Development Party reached the second round. Of the eleven candidates nominated by United Abkhazia, only one was elected outright, and only four reached the second round. Of the eleven candidates nominated by the Forum for National Unity, one candidate was elected outright (Khajimba) and six reached the second round. This means that independent candidates will form a majority in the new Parliament. Even though these may still end up forming pro-government and opposition camps, this could mean a more active and self-conscious Parliament.

In the light of the very poor performance by United Abkhazia, the question is justified whether these results constitute a defeat for President Ankvab. The answer is probably no, Given that United Abkhazia is not Ankvab’s party, even though it supports him, and that he has distanced himself somewhat from the United Abkhazia-led government of his predecessor, Sergei Bagapsh. That said, the results do indicate that voters are thoroughly dissatisfied with the current Parliament and with past governments. This should provide a strong incentive for President Ankvab to intensify his reforms.

Filed under: Abkhazia, Elections, Wikipedia, , , , , ,

South Ossetia’s post-election struggle refocuses on March rerun

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.

Filed under: Elections, Russia, South Ossetia, , , , , , ,

Snow Revolution or South Ossetian Winter?

So it has come to this. For a short while, South Ossetia’s Presidential election looked like a total win. The polling wasn’t merely quite free and fair, South Ossetia’s electorate actually handed a preliminary 56.74% second round majority to Alla Dzhioyeva, the opposition candidate, against Anatoly Bibilov, the candidate openly endorsed not only by autocratic President Kokoity and his Unity party, but also by Russia’s government (whose President Medvedev went so far as to schedule a personal meeting with Bibilov). Alas, before long the election descended into chaos after all.

After the publication of the preliminary results which indicated Dzhioyeva’s victory, the Unity party filed a complaint with the Supreme Court saying that Dzhioyeva’s campaign had engaged in voter intimidation, which the Supreme Court promptly ruled in favour of. It forbade the Central Election Commission to publish the second round’s final results, it ordered the Parliament to set a date for a repeat election, and it barred Dzhioyeva from participating therein.

Quite understandably, Dzhioyeva and her supporters have not accepted the Supreme Court’s ruling. And quite rightly, given that election observers declared the election more or less free and fair. So the situation has developed into a stand-off, with Dzhioyeva’s supporters on the streets in protest, and Kokoity and Moscow declaring that the Supreme Court’s ruling must be respected.

The current situation carries a strong sense of déjà vu, being so very similar to Abkhazia’s ‘Tangerine Revolution’ in the autumn of 2004. One would have thought that Russia’s authorities had learned from that experience, and given its non-interference in Abkhazia’s election this past August, it did seem that way. South Ossetia is even more dependent on Russian support than Abkhazia, its inhabitants probably consider Russia even more favourably, and South Ossetia is of less geopolitical interest to Russia to Abkhazia. So for all intents and purposes, the outcome of the election should have been much less important to Russia than the fact that they were conducted credibly. After all, the credibility of Russia’s foreign policy vis-à-vis Abkhazia and South Ossetia squarely rests on the credibility of their respective state projects.

So what exactly does Russia think it is doing? Perhaps Russian officials were so fed up with the massive misuse of aid funds under Kokoity that despite the past negative experience in Abkhazia they decided to openly endorse someone they believed would be able to manage things properly, Bibilov. And perhaps they simply didn’t trust Dzhioyeva to do a good enough job. It is also possible that Moscow’s current insistence that the ruling of South Ossetia’s Supreme Court be respected reflects a genuine desire not to interfere in internal affairs. But that is a very charitable reading of events, and it is much more likely that in the reported words of Moskovsky Komsomolets editorial, the Russian officials responsible are not merely bastards, but morons.

Given the familiarity of the scenario that is enrolling now, current events have already been labelled the Snow Revolution, a designation that is perhaps not very catchy, but very fitting given the meteorological backdrop of Dzhioyeva’s vigil. Yet despite the very similar set-up, there are some important differences in comparison to the Tangerine Revolution in Abkhazia. Unfortunately for Dzhioyeva, South Ossetia’s parliament and all the Republic’s top officials seem securely on the hand of Kokoity and Bibilov. In 2004, Abkhazia’s Parliament and its Vice President favoured opposition candidate Bagapsh, while the security services declared their neutrality. The current legal situation is also different. There is now a Supreme Court ruling that is not easily overturned, whereas in Abkhazia in 2004, Khajimba’s supporters merely forced the Central Election Commission to issue revised results, a decision that could easily be undone once more. So while Dzhioyeva may be an excellent personification of a people patiently but adamantly refusing to have its will be denied, she is facing a formidable challenge. Instead of a Snow revolution, her people may simply face a South Ossetian Winter.

On the other hand, there are also difference that speak in favour of a positive outcome. The election result and the injustice is much clearer now than during the Tangerine Revolution in 2004, when Bagapsh scored a mere 50.08% majority, when the participation of Mingrelian voters was indeed questionable from a constitutional point of view and when the alternative was a comparatively reasonable second round run-off. Also, whereas in 2004, outgoing President Vladislav Ardzinba was the father of the Abkhazian nation and his words carried a lot of weight, South Ossetia’s President Kokoity is an upshot ex-wrestler who enjoys little respect. Finally, South Ossetia is notoriously small, its population in the tens of thousands. In such a small community, where everyone knows everyone, including officials, it will prove hard to ignore the determined will of the people when it feels it has been subjected to a grave injustice.

Maurice Bonnot of the Institute of Democracy and Cooperation in Paris expressed the problem very elegantly: South Ossetia’s political actors need to learn how to lose.

Filed under: Abkhazia, Elections, Russia, South Ossetia, , , , , ,

South Ossetia’s presidential election suprisingly competitive

On 13 November, South Ossetia held its fourth Presidential election since independence, and expectations were low, given the authoritarian tendencies of President Kokoity and the fact that many opposition candidates had been excluded unfairly or because they didn’t satisfy the harsh 10-year residency requirement. It was predicted by some that Kokoity — who couldn’t run for a third term — would want to ‘do a Putin’ — become Prime Minister, Parliament Speaker or party leader and continue to lead South Ossetia. Also, Moscow had a clear preferred candidate in the form of Emergency Affairs Minister Anatoli Bibilov, who through falsification might have taken a landslide victory (Kokoity himself was re-elected in 2006 with 98% of the votes).

However, the results are surprisingly hopeful. The election requires a second round, a rare thing in the Caucasus. What is more, the two front runners, Bibilov and former Education Minister Alla Dzhioyeva only scored 25% each, which is little even by word-wide standards. The election is also the first in the Caucasus with a female candidate who stands a serious chance of winning (Dzhioyeva). Of course, instead of hailing this achievement, Kokoity then vowed that no woman could become President of South Ossetia, this being the Caucasus…

The first round results and the fact that there is no reliable opinion polling in South Ossetia mean that the fight for the second round is wide open. It was widely perceived that Kokoity had supported his own candidates in the first round rather than Bibilov, so the latter could now enjoy the undivided support of South Ossetian authorities. In her turn, Dzhioyeva may be able to attract the support of other opposition candidates, whose first round results combine to more than 25%. A victory by Dzhioyeva would probably be the best result for South Ossetian society, and it might actually happen.

Filed under: Elections, South Ossetia, ,

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