After a record-breaking number of de-facto presidential elections, embattled South Ossetia has finally got itself a de-facto president. Yet holding elections is proving to be a habit hard to kick. After four attempts to decide on a leader, now the breakaway region could be headed toward an early parliamentary election.
The current parliament, unrecognized by most of the world, is facing credibility issues at home as the majority of its 34 members are believed to be loyalists of former strongman Eduard Kokoity, a figure whose reputation for corruption is proving a not-so-endearing memory.
The new man at separatist South Ossetia's helm, ex-KGB chief Leonid Tibilov, may now need to upgrade the legislature to reinforce his own position with the territory's electorate, reports indicate.
Tibilov, of course, has described his victory at the polls as a victory shared by all the South Ossetian people, but, since quite a few voters disagree, he has also described the task ahead as building a sense of unity.
Jioyeva, who ended up in the hospital after a raid on her office, first vowed to fight to the end for the presidency, but now it looks like she is willing to entertain the option of participating in the early de-facto parliamentary vote, instead. Jioyeva and David Sanakoyev, the runner-up in de-facto election #2, are launching political parties to run for parliament.
Voting in de-facto presidential elections is becoming a regular pastime in the breakaway region of South Ossetia. After three attempts since November 2011 -- the latest, on March 25 -- to choose a successor to longtime strongman Eduard Kokoity, residents are now being asked to vote, yes, a fourth time on April 8.
"The people are tired of the election process . . . " candidate Leonid Tibilov, a former South Ossetian KGB boss who scooped up 42.48 percent of the latest de-facto vote, according to preliminary results, commented wryly to the Russian daily Kommersant. Without a clear majority, Tibilov will now face off against David Sanakoyev, the region's de-facto human rights ombudsman, with 24.58 percent of the vote.
Haunting the polls also, though, are the ghosts of (de-facto) elections past: Kokoity and opposition leader Alla Jioyeva, who claimed election in December 2011 and now is under house arrest in Tskhinvali after having attempted to proceed with her inauguration.
In interviews with Kommersant, both Tibilov and Sanakoyev took efforts to emphasize their distaste for or distance from Kokoity, and their fondness for the people's will; a sentiment no doubt enhanced after the large-scale public demonstrations that broke out in December in favor of Jioyeva.
Eight hundred million rubles -- part of the aid dished out by Moscow for post-war rehabilitation -- simply has disappeared, South Ossetia’s de-facto state auditors said last week. The who, where, when, why and how remain unknown. While eyes popped in Russia, South Ossetia’s de-facto official news agency reported the epic steal as casually as if a ballpoint pen had gone missing.
Whether a culprit will ever be found for Russia's missing millions, however, remains anybody's guess.
Gennady Ryabchenko, the de-facto official tasked to audit the breakaway territory's public finances, charged that prosecutors failed to act on reports of embezzlement. The de-facto Security Council requested the region’s tiny 34-seat parliament to probe into what's been going on exactly in the prosecutor's office.
Many Facebook users block other users for posting nasty comments on their wall, but few have blocked an entire country. Yet this is what happened yesterday when Russian President Dmitry Medvedev apparently decided he'd had it with angry posts from Georgia.
The onslaught against the Russian president’s Facebook page took place on the February 23 Homeland Defender’s Day, a Russian public holiday that commemorates military service. To mark the day, Georgians (and not only) in a loosely coordinated campaign bombarded Medvedev’s page with requests to withdraw Russian troops from separatist Abkhazia and South Ossetia, territories kept under heavy Russian military guard since the 2008 Russia-Georgia war.
The steady flow of comments ran the gamut from demands, to requests (for an IDP's return to Abkhazia, for instance) to coarse statements. “It was essentially an occupy-Medvedev’s-Facebook-page campaign to demand the de-occupation of Georgia,” one user commented to EurasiaNet.org.
At first, the comments kept disappearing almost instantly, and instead greetings from well-wishers started to pop up. “I wish you good health, Dmitry Anatoliyevich,” one kind user wrote, but her wishes got drowned in an avalanche of comments from Georgia.
Apparently unable to keep up with the stream, the Kremlin's Facebook men simply disabled the page for users from Georgia.
“They blocked users with Georgian IPs for a little bit,” said Giorgi Jakhaia, a Georgian blogger displaced from Abkhazia, and one of the organizers of the campaign. After briefly reopening, "the page got blocked again" when a fresh barrage of comments began, said Jakhaia, known by his nom de blog, Cyxymu.
Call it a milestone in the ongoing battle for the Pacific. Georgia and Tuvalu, separated by 45,000 kilometers of land and sea, are not on diplomatic terms anymore.
Last February, when Tbilisi and Funafuti established ties, it seemed they were in it for keeps. At first, the two got along really well. Georgia gave the cash-strapped island $12,000 worth of medicine. Tuvalu backed a pro-Tbilisi UN resolution calling for return of displaced ethnic Georgians to their homes in breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
To hear Tbilisi tell it, the relationship, all of a year-long, was both dynamic and mutually respectful, until along came Russia, and seduced tiny Tuvalu away.
The country reportedly recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia last year, and the Georgians think the island government got an offer from Moscow they could not refuse. Russia is accused of a campaign to bribe small, South Pacific nations into recognizing the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia -- two regions whose names never before really resonated in the South Pacific -- in a bid to legitimize the stationing of thousands of Russian troops on the two territories.
Deciding that the relationship, based on the notion of the "inviolability of borders,” cannot work anymore, President Mikheil Saakashvili signed a decree on February 16 to call it a day.
Elsewhere in the South Pacific, Nauru shares Tuvalu's take on the two breakaways, and Vanuatu is on the fence. Neither country has diplomatic ties with Georgia.
“People with guns and in masks barged in, destroying the doors, furniture …and tried to take me away by force,” said Jioyeva describing to Russian Reporter how riot police (OMON) allegedly stormed her office on February 9, the eve of her planned inauguration as de-facto president of the tiny, breakaway region.
“One grabbed me by the hands; others by the feet. They picked me up and dragged me like an old watermelon,” she told the website. Those in her office who tried to resist the OMON were beaten with rifle butts; some were arrested, she alleged. “I started to feel bad, from the humiliation… from everything that I saw, from the screams. I lost consciousness,” she said.
South Ossetian de-facto opposition leader Alla Jioyeva, who planned to hold a presidential inauguration ceremony today, has been hospitalized in critical condition after receiving a summons for questioning by prosecutors about an alleged attempt to seize power in the breakaway region.
Tensions remain high, with news reports about what exactly happened to Jioyeva -- and even whether or not she is still conscious -- largely a he-said-she-said affair.
Jioyeva's spokesperson, Violetta Dasayeva, told Ekho Moskvy radio that 100 armed riot police stormed Jioyeva's headquarters late on February 9, "destroyed" it, and struck the 61-year-old opposition leader on the back with a rifle butt, knocking her to the floor. Dasayeva, who said she was an eyewitness, claimed the police were intent on killing Jioyeva.
The territory's de-facto provisional government, which has run South Ossetia after two failed attempts to elect a de-facto president, denies that any violence was used against Jioyeva. Doctors from the Tskhinvali hospital also report no sign of any trauma; the official line is that Jioyeva suffered a stroke.
The opposition leader's health "deteriorated," de-facto officials say, after investigators presented her with a summons on the evening of February 9 for questioning by prosecutors about an alleged attempt to seize power -- an apparent reference to supporters' attempt to enter the de-facto Central Election Commission late last year to protest the annulment of de-facto run-off election results that indicated Jioyeva's victory at the polls in November 2011.
The Kremlin has warned breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia to beware of Georgians bearing gifts of travel documents. As part of its post-2008-war reintegration strategy, Tbilisi offered the separatists citizenship-blind identification documents. But Moscow says that those who take these papers will unwittingly become Georgians.
The so-called neutral travel documents do not carry Georgia's national symbols and do not specify the citizenship of their holders. But Moscow found a catch. “The ‘neutral passports’ are not neutral at all,” the Russian foreign ministry declared on February 8. “Georgia is indicated in the country code, while the issuing authority is the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs.”
Both breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia, for their part, say that they are not interested in any IDs printed by Tbilisi-- and whether or not any EU members promise to recognize them.
But, contrary to Russian fears or Georgian hopes, the documents are hardly an effective mechanism to lure the breakaways back into the Georgian fold.
Life in the Caucasus can often mean having the skills of a quick-change artist. Many Georgians themselves often hold both Russian and Georgian passports to make travel between the two estranged countries easier.
Warnings of possible bloodshed are coming from the politically discombobulated territory of South Ossetia as opposition leader Alla Jioyeva gets ready to inaugurate herself on February 10 as the region’s de-facto president and ignore plans to hold a repeat (de-facto) presidential election.
Describing Caucasians as "a hot-headed people," ex de-facto Defense Minister Anatoly Barankevich, a Jioyeva ally, warned that the inauguration “could lead to a civil war," an event "that will affect the entire Caucasus and even Russia," Kavkazsky Uzel reports.
But, so far, Jioyeva, who has the ice-cold determination to become South Ossetia's de-facto leader, in keeping with the apparent results of a 2011 run-off (de-facto) election, is not to be swayed. She says that the inauguration will take place with or without the interim de-facto government’s support. The de-facto government , for its part, wants to hold a third run-off presidential election on March 25.
The only international effort to defuse the tensions has come from Moscow, which recognizes the territory as a state independent from Georgia, but, with two competing centers of power now in South Ossetia, it's hard to argue that Russia's self-promoted skills as a crisis manager have amounted to much.
“Think of all the beautiful moments we had together. Think of your international commitments. Don’t do it, Fiji!”
That's essentially the message from Tbilisi as the tiny South Pacific country of Fiji prepares to welcome Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on February 1 for what Georgia fears could be a lot of sweet talk from Moscow about recognizing the independence of breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Moscow has denied having any plans to bribe Fiji, a developing country, in exchange for recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. It says it's just in the region for (with apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein) some "happy talk."