Former spy chief wins South Ossetian election

By bne IntelliNews April 9, 2012

Clare Nuttall in Almaty -

Leonid Tibilov is set to become the next president of the breakaway Georgian republic of South Ossetia after taking over 53% in the second round vote on April 8. If the result is accepted by the South Ossetian people, it will bring to an end months of unrest following the annulment of an earlier vote.

The staff of former South Ossetian KGB head Tibilov claimed victory late on April 8, although South Ossetia's Central Election Commission has not yet formally released the result. CEC chair Bella Pliyeva reported this morning that with 91% of the vote counted Leonid Tibilov is ahead on 53.67%, and that an announcement will be made later in the day after all the votes have been counted. Hundreds of Tbilov supporters are already celebrating in Tskhinvali's main square.

Representatives of Tibilov's rival, human rights ombudsman David Sanakoyev, said their candidate had taken just 43% of the vote, RIA Novosti reports. Turnout is reported to be high, with 63% of the tiny republic's electorate having already cast their votes two hours before the polls closed.

Tibilov was widely expected to win after taking 42.5% of the vote against three rival candidates in the first round on March 25. While this was insufficient to give him an outright win, he came in well ahead of Sanakoyev who received just 24.6%.

Tibilov is also reported to be favoured by Russia, which is South Ossetia's source of military, diplomatic and economic support. Having served as KGB chief for South Ossetia from 1992-1998, Tibilov was Deputy Prime Minister under outgoing President Eduard Kokoity and later co-chaired the Georgian-South Ossetian peacekeeping commission. This is his second shot at the presidency; he stood against Kokoity in 2006, but saw his boss take 98% of the vote.

Speaking to supporters this morning, Tibilov said his main goal on becoming president would be to bring together the people of South Ossetia following several months of unrest after elections held in November 2011 were annulled. "The most important thing today is that these elections were found valid," Tibilov told his supporters, according to Itar-Tass. "The people got tired, but they are wise and could elect the president. I congratulate all people, and not only those who voted for Leonid Tibilov, but also for David Sanakoyev."

South Ossetia originally organised presidential elections in autumn 2011, when Kokoity stepped down, having already served his maximum of two terms in office. In the second round vote on November 27, Moscow's preferred candidate, Anatoly Bibilov, met a surprise defeat to Alla Dzhioyeva. However, the result was annulled by the South Ossetian Supreme Court, which said the vote was rigged. It also banned Dzhioyeva from taking part in new elections.

Dzhioyeva's supporters staged mass protests in Tshkinviali but failed to get the ruling overturned. On February 9, she was hospitalised with a reported heart attack, suffered while under police questioning. Her staff say Dzhioyeva and two family members were beaten by police. This ended her attempt to take the presidency, and she remains in police custody.

Politics are tightly controlled in South Ossetia. Freedom House notes South Ossetia among the 48 "Not Free" countries and territories on its annual Freedom in the World report, which looks at political rights and civil liberties. The situation in South Ossetia is only slightly better than in the seven "Worst of the Worst" countries.

South Ossetia declared its independence from Georgia in 1990, although the republic of just 67,000 people has been de facto independent since the end of the 1991-1992 war with Georgia. After 16 years of an uneasy peace, war broke out in August 2008, between Georgia and Russia over the self-declared republic. After Georgia's defeat, Moscow formally recognised both South Ossetia and another Georgian separatist republic, Abkhazia, as independent states. A handful of other countries including Venezuela and Nicaragua have followed, but South Ossetia remains unrecognised by the vast majority of the international community.

While Russian election monitors were at yesterday's polls and reported no major violations, other international observers stayed away. Previous elections in South Ossetia have not been recognised by the EU or the US as they consider it to still to be part of Georgia.

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