Ahead of Russian elections, quashed Ossetia vote embarrasses Moscow
The crushing of an apparently legitimate election victory in South Ossetia, a key client state of Moscow, could bring a fresh wave of unwanted attention to Russia's own problematic democracy.
A bizarre electoral upset in Russia's tiny protectorate of South Ossetia, a breakaway province of Georgia, has thrown the little republic into chaos and brought acute embarrassment to its sponsors in the Kremlin.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
On the cusp of Russia's own crucial cycle of elections, the blatant crushing of an apparently legitimate election victory in a key client state of Moscow could bring a fresh wave of unwanted attention to Russia's own problematic democracy.
The trouble began last Sunday, when South Ossetia's official election commission declared former education minister and anticorruption outsider Alla Dzhioyeva decisively ahead in presidential elections, having won 57 percent of the votes with most of the ballots counted. The problem was that Ms. Dzhioyeva's opponent, Anatoly Bibilov, who was trailing far behind with 40 percent, had been personally endorsed by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
On Tuesday the republic's Supreme Court met behind closed doors and declared the polls null and void, citing "irregularities" that have yet to be spelled out. The decision barred Dzhioyeva from participating in any future elections.
In a move that some Russian analysts say Moscow will come to regret, Russia's Foreign Ministry subsequently issued an official statement endorsing the annulment of the election results, saying that Russia favors maintaining a "calm and stable situation" in South Ossetia.
Dzhioyeva's supporters took to the streets the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali on Wednesday and Thursday to protest, bringing a tough response from riot police who fired shots into the air and physically prevented protesters from approaching government buildings. The Kremlin dispatched a special emissary, Sergei Vinokurov, to the region in hopes of negotiating a solution.
"The people have spoken; 17,000 voters [out of 28,000 registered voters in the tiny republic] supported me," said Dzhioyeva, reached by telephone in Tskhinvali on Thursday. "Both the official Central Election Commission, and international election observers [including Russian ones] declared our elections to be basically free and fair. That gives us grounds to believe that we have won."
But Russia, which fought a war with Georgia in 2008 to preserve the independence of South Ossetia and another rebel republic, does not appear to see things that way.