South Ossetian Elections Follow Moscow’s Script

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 1 Issue: 18

Elections for the 34-seat Parliament of the self-proclaimed South Ossetian Republic were held on May 23. The Ossetian party claims that 70% of voters participated in the elections. Local laws consider the elections valid when over 50% of voters participate. According to Zaira Gagloeva, who chairs the committee on press and information of South Ossetia, 40,000 registered electors were expected to cast ballots, and no polling stations were opened outside South Ossetia. This is the fourth convocation of the South Ossetian Parliament. Despite concerns over potential disruption from Tbilisi, the process went smoothly.

Four seats allotted for ethnic Georgians living in the breakaway region will again remain vacant, since the Georgians have never voted in separatist states’ elections and the Georgian central government considers those elections to be illegal. Nevertheless, the South Ossetian electoral commission claims that residents of the Georgian village of Avnevi participated in the elections. (RIA Novosti, Imedi-TV, May 23).

According to the preliminary reports, the pro-governmental Edinstvo (Unity) movement — which is an ally of the Russian political party of the same name – which supports South Ossetia President Eduard Kokoiti – is most likely to win a majority of seats. Edinstvo’s motto is “Our Path is to Russia.” The rest of the seats are likely to be divided between the Communist Party led by Stanislav Kochiev, chair of the South Ossetian Parliament, and the nationalist People’s Party (RIA-Novosti, Imedi-TV, Rustavi-2, May 23).

Almost no one expects any surprises from the elections because the political situation in the breakaway region is under Russian control — so far. Gleb Pavlovski, a pro-Kremlin political analyst, forecast that the current South Ossetia elections, like previous elections, would follow a Moscow-written script (ORT Vremena May 16).

Observers from the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and Transdniester as well as a representative delegation from the Russian State Duma, led by Konstantin Zatulin, chairman of the Duma committee for CIS affairs, witnessed the elections. Stanislav Kochiev, speaker of South Ossetia’s Parliament, complained of the “unfair methods,” which different political forces employed during the pre-election campaign. Kochiev also said that statements made by some officials about the political prospects of South Ossetia were dangerous and could lead to a further breakdown in relations between Tbilisi and Tskhinvali. “Today we don’t need garish statements but laborious work for restoration of the economy of South Ossetia, strengthening its political statute and consolidation of society,” he added (RIA-Novosti, May 22).

Kochiev may be echoing the sentiments of South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoiti. During and before the elections he continuously maintained that he would do his best to achieve the incorporation of South Ossetia into the Russian Federation. On May 22, Kokoiti told a meeting in Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia, that Tbilisi had offered US$3 million for regional social-economic recovery in exchange for loyalty to the Georgian central government. “South Ossetia does not bargain over principles — even for billions of dollars,” Kokoiti said. (RIA Novosti, Kommersant, May 22).

In an interview with Georgian and Russian media on May 23, Kokoiti compared Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili with Zviad Gamsakhurdia, Georgia’s first president, who initiated abolition of the South Ossetian autonomous region by Georgian parliament in 1990. The move came in response to secession of the region from Georgia. This decision led to armed conflict between Georgia and Ossetia. At his news conference earlier in Moscow Kokoiti pledged not to conduct negotiations with Tbilisi until the Georgian government admits to the “genocide of the South Ossetian population in 1989-1990 and legally and politically assesses these events.” Kokoiti said, “Our integration with Russia is now closer than ever and no one will force either me or my nation to deviate from this path” (Media News, Interfax May 19).

According to the South Ossetian NGO, Families of Missing People,” the Ossetian party is still looking for 116 people missing after the conflict. Zarina Tedeeva, head of the NGO, said that during the conflict 1,000 Ossetians were killed, 3,500 were wounded and 117 Ossetian villages were destroyed (Inter Press, May 18).

Meanwhile, the Georgian government appears to have begun implementation of the first phase of its plan to focus on the breakaway regions. The pro-Saakashvili youth movement Kmara (Enough), which was a key player during the revolutions in Tbilisi and Ajaria, has announced that it has begun working in South Ossetia to incite local civic groups toward civil disobedience. Tea Tutberidze, one of the Kmara leaders, stated that the first step would involve underground work in Tskhinvali, aimed at recruiting support. (Rustavi-2 TV May 21, Resonance May 22).

The first posters with signs declaring “Enough,” in the Georgian and Ossetian languages appeared in Tskhinvali on the eve of the elections. On May 23, Imedi-TV broadcast interviews with the young Ossetians who had joined Kmara. In spite of the efforts of Tbilisi-orchestrated NGOs, it’s obvious that the revolution in South Ossetia is unlikely to be imminent.