Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Tue Nov 14 21:09:54 UTC 2006


Molly Corso and Elizabeth Owen: 11/13/06

Two separate presidential elections and two separate referenda on the
future of the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia were held on
November 12, but the outcome depends on your point of view. No agreement
exists about which candidate is now the legitimate leader of this
separatist territory. In one vote, Eduard Kokoiti, the de facto president
of the self-declared Republic of South Ossetia since 2001, has been
declared the winner with a sweeping 95 percent of the vote, based on
preliminary results. In a so-called alternative poll organized on
Georgian-controlled territory in South Ossetia, Dmitri Sanakoyev -- a
former prime minister of the de facto South Ossetian republic who
Tskhinvali officials claim is bankrolled by Tbilisi -- has been declared
the president-elect, with more than 80 percent of the vote.

The referenda differ as well. In the election organized by officials in
the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, voters were asked whether or not
they agreed with keeping South Ossetias current status as an independent
state and whether or not the Republic of South Ossetia should be
internationally recognized; an earlier, unrecognized referendum on this
question was held in 1992. In the alternative referendum, voters were
asked to say whether they want to begin negotiations with Tbilisi about a
federal system of government. The Tskhinvali-organized referendum passed
with a reported 99 percent of the vote, according to preliminary figures.
The referendum, Kokoiti asserted at a November 13 press conference, is a
very weighty argument, even for those who today refuse to recognize its
results. We can say that South Ossetia has been recognized. No information
was available about results for the so-called alternative referendum.

While the final vote count for both elections will not be ready until
later this week, both sides claim high voter turnout in their respective
elections and accuse the other of high levels of falsification and
violations. In a statement issued November 12, the head of the
Tskhinvali-based election committee, Bella Pliyeva, announced that nearly
95 percent of voters participated in the elections; a little over 52,000
of the reported 55,000 registered voters. Kokoiti faced three other
candidates in the Tskhinvali-organized poll: Oleg Gabodze, an unemployed
former advisor to the head of the South Ossetian government; Inal
Pukhayev, the administrative chief of Tskhinval Region; and Leonid Tbilov,
a special envoy for talks on resolution of the Georgian-Ossetian conflict.
Candidates were not allowed to meet with the press on the eve of the
election, but government spokesperson Irina Gagloyeva stated that the
challengers themselves knew that Kokoiti would win reelection. They know
they wont win, but they want to have the experience of a political
campaign, she said. Kokoiti has promised South Ossetian voters a series of
improvements, including salary increases and the construction of a Russian
gas pipeline to improve heating supplies in the disputed territory. In
official campaign materials, he termed the referendum a call for peace and
condemned the United States for arming Georgia and preparing it for

In the second presidential election, Sanakoyev, whose campaign posters
were prominently posted on walls outside polling stations in
Georgian-controlled villages, benefited from extensive media coverage in
the Georgian press. The 37-year-old has largely eschewed details about his
policy ideas, though, saying only that a decisive step should be taken to
elect a force that can conduct a measured policy of strengthening the
republics independence, revive the economy, stamp out corruption and
restore hope for the future. Four other candidates contested the
alternative election. The alternative election commission, based in the
Georgian-controlled village of Eredvi, did not announce the number of
registered voters for its vote. However, it did report that 42,000 voters
had cast their ballots at polling stations located throughout the de facto
republic by 8 p.m.  November 12.

Along with two rival elections, a dispute also persists about where the
elections were actually held. According to Uruzmag Karkusov, head of the
alternative election commission, voting stations were placed in both
Georgian and Ossetian-controlled villages although some ballot boxes,
Georgian television news reported, had to be delivered by horseback to
avoid Ossetian-controlled roads. Karkusov claimed that voting would take
place in the Ossetian-controlled villages of Kvaisa, Sinakuri, Znauri and
in Tskhinvali. Ossetian officials in Tskhinvali, however, strongly denied
that the alternative elections occurred in Ossetian-controlled villages.
At the same time, Gagloyeva, the Tskhinvali spokesperson, told reporters
that six ethnic Georgian villages on Ossetian-controlled territory had
expressed a desire to hold the Tskhinvali-based governments presidential
elections and referendum.

In Tskhinvali, roughly 30 observers from countries ranging from Venezuela
and Jordan to Latvia and Ukraine were on hand as of late November 11 to
monitor the voting, according to Gagloyeva. The observers also included
representatives from the Georgian breakaway region of Abkhazia and the
disputed Moldovan territory of Transdnestr. There were no registered
voting irregularities, according to official announcements. No
international monitoring of the alternative elections is known to have

The Council of Europe, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in
Europe and the United States have all criticized the dual elections in the
breakaway region. The criticism, however, did not appear to faze officials
in Tskhinvali. Who are they to shut our mouths? Gagloyeva asked
rhetorically in an interview on November 11. Their own political interests
in the Caucasus are more important [for them] than our fate. While some
observers in Tbilisi had believed that the elections could provide an
avenue for reconciliation in South Ossetia, so far, the exact opposite
appears to be the result. At his November 13 press conference, Kokoiti
termed Sanakoyev and Karkusov, head of the alternative election commission
and a former advisor to Kokoiti, traitors to their homeland and traitors
to the South Ossetian people. Kokoiti stated that he would demand that
Tbilisi extradite both men to Tskhinvali.

Whether residents of impoverished South Ossetia will take Sanakoyevs claim
to be the legitimate leader of South Ossetia seriously depends largely on
economics, commented Tbilisi-based Caucasus analyst Mamuka Areshidze. That
is the biggest mistake of the Georgian government that they have never
showed the Abkhaz or Ossetians why they should be a part of Georgia. Show
a person how you work, how you improve agriculture, how you help and they
will [follow.]

In Tskhinvali, though, interviewed residents expressed no desire for union
with Georgia. How can we be an autonomous region when we cannot use the
name South Ossetia? commented Khadiza Skhovubova, a 53-year-old bazaar
vendor born in Tbilisi. Whether in Tskhinvali or in Eredvi, on one point
alone both sides in South Ossetia seem to agree on a need for peace. Asked
what she hoped for from the referendum on independence, a Kokoiti
supporter selling beer out of her home in Tskhinvali who gave her name as
Lamsira, was succinct: A normal life. We dont need anything else.


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