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Ruling party loses majority in South Ossetian parliament

12 June 2019
(Photo: Valeriy Sharifulin / Tass)

The ruling United Ossetia Party has lost their majority in South Ossetia’s parliament, winning just 14 of 34 seats.

Official results were published on Wednesday evening with 100% of votes counted.

The party of President Anatoly Bibilov, who formally resigned as party leader on being elected to office in 2017, still came out on top in 9 June’s vote.

Ninety-eight candidates, 60 party-nominated and 38 independents, competed in Sunday’s vote for 17 single-mandate seats, with United Ossetia winning seven of these.

The party also won seven of the 17 proportional party-list seats with 35% of the South Ossetia-wide vote, the Central Election Commission announced.

The authorities switched from a fully proportional system, used since 2004, back to a mixed proportional and single-mandate system for 2019’s election.

United Ossetia fared far worse than in previous parliamentary elections in 2014, where they garnered 43% winning 20 seats.

Five political parties are set to be represented in the seventh convocation of the South Ossetian parliament. MPs are elected for five-year terms.

The People’s Party won five seats — one single-mandate and four party-list seats, with 22% of votes.

The Nykhas Party won four seats — three from the party list with 14% of the vote and one single-mandate seat.  

The National Unity Party, which won 13% of votes, is expected to enter parliament with two party-list seats and one single mandate seat.

The Communist Party is currently facing uncertainty, sitting just over the 7% threshold to gain a seat in parliament in the preliminary results.

Seven independent candidates also won in single-mandate constituencies. Three of these have already vowed to work with the ruling party, which would still leave United Ossetia one seat short of a majority.

Only one woman was elected, through the Nykhas party-list. None of the seven women who ran from the 98 for the majoritarian candidates won.

None of the seven women who ran from the 98 majoritarian candidates managed to enter the parliament.

Zita Besayeva will be the only woman MP. (Alan Khubul / Facebook)

The other parties participating in the election but failing to win seats were the Party of the Fatherland (Fydybasta) and the Unity Party, winning 3% each according to the preliminary results.

The 31,000 eligible voters out of around 53,000 residents of South Ossetia were also able to vote ‘against all’ candidates, and 3% of those casting their ballots did so.

After polls closed on Sunday evening, Central Election Commission head Bella Pliyeva annonced the turnout was 66%, up from 60% in 2014.

There were 77 polling precincts in total, four of them outside South Ossetia: one each in Moscow and Abkhazia’s capital Sukhumi (Sukhum), and two in Vladikavkaz, the capital of the Russian Republic of North Ossetia — Alania.

The Central Election Commission is due to present the final vote count by the end of the week.

The vote in Akhalgori

A mandate for the 16th electoral district, the predominantly ethnic Georgian-populated settlement of Akhalgori (Leningor) that borders with Georgian-controlled territory was won by Adjara-born Zaza Driayev. According to his official biography, Driayev’s mother was ‘killed by Georgian extremists in Gori in 1991’.

Driayev, an independent who was endorsed by the Nykhas Party headed by Alan Gagloyev, defeated two other candidates running for the district, one from the ruling party and another from the People’s Party.

Tamara Mearakishvili, a South Ossetian journalist and activist based in Akhalgori, told OC Media that former president Eduard Kokoity personally met with the local community to support People’s Party candidate Aleksey Sanakoyev.

According to Mearakishvili, the local community chose Driayev as ‘they didn’t want United Ossetia candidate Spartak Dryayev to win’.

She said the ruling party candidate ‘mostly promised [South Ossetian] passports’ to them, which they have previously been deprived of.

She said he also organised a banquet two days before the elections — ‘basically celebrating victory in advance’.

Observers, reported incidents, and non-recognition

On 10 June, South Ossetian state news agency Res reported a shootout in the centre of the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali (Tskhinval) involving ‘parliamentary candidates’. One person was injured and had been hospitalised. The police were reported as saying they were investigating the identities of those involved.

On the voting day, the Nykhas Party appealed to South Ossetia’s Prosecutor General Uruzmag Dzhagayev to investigate allegations of voter buying at one of the precincts in Vladikavkaz.

In their letter, co-addressed to the Central Election Commission, they said United Ossetia’s local campaign manager Uzurmag Makoyev was caught on camera offering money to voters and urging them to vote for the party.

Talking to North Ossetian news outlet Region 15 on 10 June, the Prosecutor General said they would initiate a probe.

Fydybasta and the Popular Party joined Nykhas in demanding the annulment of the vote in the precinct.

South Ossetian election authorities claimed that ‘about 70’ accredited international observers followed the elections. These included delegations from the governments of the Donetsk People’s Republic, the Luhansk People’s Republic, and Nicaragua, which recognised South Ossetia’s independence in 2008.

A delegation from far-right Japanese group Issui Kai, including their leader Mitsuhiro Kimura, also travelled to South Ossetia to observe the election.

Georgia’s Foreign Ministry condemned the ‘illegal’ elections in the region, calling them a ‘futile attempt by Russia and its occupation regime … to legitimise the ethnic cleansing of Georgians’.

Citing security measures for the election, South Ossetian authorities said they were closing the border with Georgia for the weekend.

On 9 June, the foreign ministries of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia also said they did not recognise the elections.

The next day, Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry said that holding elections in South Ossetia was a ‘gross violation of the norms of international law’.

In a statement released on 10 June, the US embassy to Georgia reiterated their ‘strong support for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity’ and ‘once again urged’ Russia to fulfil their obligations under the 2008 ceasefire agreement to withdraw their military forces to pre-conflict positions.

The US reiterated their support for Georgia's territorial integrity again on 11 June at a meeting between Georgian Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze and US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo. Pompeo vowed to support Georgia’s military capability through ‘training and equipping … that will ensure Georgia's territorial defence’.

On 28 August 2008, Russia formally recognised South Ossetia and Abkhazia’s independence, something that the US and European Union, which brokered the 2008 deal, demanded be retracted.

Kokoity — the ‘Ossetian Mueller’

Former two-time South Ossetian president Eduard Kokoity, who has mostly resided in Russia since stepping down in 2011, actively inserted himself into the election campaign without seeking a mandate. South Ossetia’s electoral code demands five years of residency to run for a parliamentary seat.

In early June, he arrived in South Ossetia and campaigned for candidates from the Popular Party, chaired by Aleksandr Pliyev.

Kokoity also called on people to vote for the Communist Party.

Eduard Kokoity campaigning in Tskhinvali. (Grigoriy Abayev)

The Chair of Communists, Stanislav Kochiyev, who has served as South Ossetian parliamentary speaker twice, distanced his party from the former president, saying on 4 June that ‘alliances should be done after the elections’.

The Popular Party also tried to moderate its association with Kokoity. On 4 June, the party leadership disavowed a statement by one of their members, Alan Gabarayev. During a televised debate, Gabarayev accused the South Ossetian government of preventing Kokoity from entering South Ossetia and said he would be in danger if he did arrive.

As well as characterising him as unpopular and absent from South Ossetia, the ruling United Ossetia party and state-controlled media in Russia have been critical of Kokoity’s tone towards Russia.

After his powers expired in June 2011, Kokoity was blocked by the Constitutional Court from revisiting a ban to run for the third consecutive term via a referendum. He eventually resigned on 10 December amidst street protests.

In March 2017, Kokoity grew increasingly critical of Russian ‘representatives’ in South Ossetia. He insisted that they interfered in South Ossetian politics, which he said undermined the image of Russia and its President among South Ossetians.

In an interview on 27 May with Ossetian blogger Grigoriy Abayev, Kokoity slammed ‘curators’ from Russia for meddling in South Ossetia’s parliamentary election campaign.

He also insisted that Abkhazian presidential contender Aslan Bzhania was poisoned.

[Read more on OC Media: Abkhazian presidential challenger vows to fight election despite ‘poisoning’]

Following the interview, Nikita Isayev, director of the Moscow-based Institute of Contemporary Economics, compared Kokoity to US Special Counsel investigator Robert Mueller for speculating about ‘Russian interference’ in South Ossetian and Abkhazian elections. According to him, Kokoity’s rhetoric constituted ‘Russophobic campaign’.

On 5 June, South Ossetian parliamentary Speaker Piotr Gassiyev scolded the Popular Party for allying with Kokoity.

Gassiyev said that Kokoity might be ‘suffering from amnesia’ as he failed to recall how people ousted him from power in 2011.

They and other critics frequently alleged that Kokoity mismanaged humanitarian aid that South Ossetia received after the August 2008 War.

Anatoly Barankiyevich, then the former Secretary of the Security Council of South Ossetia, was among those accusing Kokoity later in 2008 of mismanaging the humanitarian aid and leading South Ossetia to a ‘catastrophe’.

Talking to RFE/RL's Ekho Kavkaza after the vote, Fydybasta Party Chair Vyacheslav Gobozov said that the Popular Party ending up as a runner up was because of Kokoity’s record, and that it was a sign that the former president was back in South Ossetian politics.

Tibilov: another ex-president who actually ran

Leonid Tibilov, who in 2012 replaced Eduard Kokoity as South Ossetian president for a five-year stint, was among the self-nominated candidates running for a single-member constituency.

Tibilov lost to 31-year old law enforcement officer Alan Gagloyev in the 8th electoral district of the capital Tskhinvali (Tskhinval).

Tibilov had presented himself as a stable leader who reconstructed South Ossetia after Kokoity, and recently remarked that he maintained a normal relationship with his successor President Bibilov.

In March 2015, during Tibilov’s presidency, Russia signed the Alliance and Integration Treaty with South Ossetia, which guaranteed Russia’s military defence of South Ossetia in the event of military aggression from a third party, as well as the integration of South Ossetia’s military and security agencies into their Russian counterparts.

[Read on OC Media: Russian Duma ratifies merger of South Ossetian forces with Russian military]

A year earlier, South Ossetia recognised the independence of the Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic, remaining the only entity to have done so.

The third South Ossetian president announced his intention to run for a parliamentary seat in March 2018, a year after he was replaced by Bibilov as president.

Several days before the election, Tibilov penned a letter where he reprimanded the second South Ossetian president Eduard Kokoity for his call on voters not to support him. Tibilov reminded Kokoity of his ‘misuse’ of funds and described him as ‘divisive’.

Leonid Tibilov (Facebook)

Frequently referred to as the informal leader of the Nykhas Party, which enjoyed de facto ruling party status during his rule (2012–2017), Tibilov eventually decided to run as an independent. South Ossetia’s Communist Party openly endorsed him.

In December 2018 and January 2019, Tibilov distanced himself from and in one instance publicly questioned Nykhas’ plan to expand their platform and include two other new political groups — the Alan Union and New Ossetia.

Prior to that, in June 2018, South Ossetia’s Justice Ministry denied New Ossetia registration as a political party citing legal violations in their documents. The decision was eventually upheld by South Ossetia’s Supreme Court.

The wider alliance between the three groups under Nykhas brand — mostly led by younger leaders and newcomers in South Ossetia’s politics — was eventually dropped, as changes in the electoral code adopted in December 2018 banned electoral blocs from participating in elections.

 For ease of reading, we choose not to use qualifiers such as ‘de facto’, ‘unrecognised’, or ‘partially recognised’ when discussing institutions or political positions within Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and South Ossetia. This does not imply a position on their status.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Roland Kelekhsayev was the current chair of the Popular Party, the party is now chaired by Aleksandr Pliyev.