Separatist South Ossetia, best known as Russia and Georgia's 2008 battlefield, is undecided about its future. Its November 13 de facto presidential election failed to produce a clear de facto winner, meaning that the territory is headed for a run-off on November 27.
The showdown will be between de-facto Emergency Situations Minister Anatoly Bibilov, tagged as Moscow's man-for-the-job, and ex-de-facto Education Minister Alla Jioyeva, who lost her post in 2008 on what she argues were politically motivated corruption charges.
A de facto referendum led to Russian being named an official language of South Ossetia; outgoing strongman de facto leader Eduard Kokoity termed it a "thank you" to Moscow for its post-2008 support.
Predictably, Tbilisi and a number of Georgian non-governmental organizations dismissed the essentially Georgian-free election as farcical. To mark the occasion, Coalition for Justice, a group dedicated to bringing Georgian IDPs back to their homes in breakaway South Ossetia and Abkhazia, presented a satellite map of destroyed houses in formerly ethnic Georgian settlements in South Ossetia.
But for the residents of South Ossetia, the election, as the end of Kokoity's decade-long rule could make a lot of difference in terms of shaping the reality on the ground -- to merge with cousin North Ossetia in the Russian Federation or not to merge; that may well be the question.
With a cheer from Moscow, Bibilov has promoted "giving a start" to the merger "project": Jioyeva, in an interview with Ekho Moskvy, called the topic "premature," and emphasized instead the need "to strengthen our position as a separate state."
For now, to judge by the official count, just a hairline difference stands between them (25.44 percent of the vote vs. 25.37 percent).
Meanwhile, Kokoity, with his finger to the wind, is putting his money on Bibilov. Switching topics to the no-less controversial topic of gender relations, he informed Komsomolskaya Pravda on November 14 that the election of a woman as leader of South Ossetia is "excluded" as a possibility. After all, he observed, when push comes to shove, "the Caucasus is the Caucasus."