South Ossetia Elects ex-KGB Head as New President
TSKHINVALI, April 9 (RIA Novosti) - Former South Ossetian KGB head Leonid Tibilov has been elected new president of the breakaway republic in a vote condemned by Georgia and welcomed by Russian lawmakers.
Tibilov, 60, won over 54 percent of the vote in the Sunday runoff against human rights ombudsman David Sanakoev, 42, who gained almost 43 percent. Less than 1 percent of South Ossetians voted against both candidates.
“We won. I express acknowledgement and gratitude to all my supporters. Now we will all have to build a new successful rule-of-law state,” Tibilov said on Monday.
Georgia sharply criticized the vote. “Our position remains unchanged,” said Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Nino Kalandadze. “The Tskhinval region remains an occupied territory of Georgia and any attempt to carry out any form of legitimate act will not be considered legitimate until those expelled on ethnic grounds have the right to vote.”
South Ossetia is only recognized as an independent state by a handful of countries, including Russia, which fought a five-day war against Georgia over the republic in August 2008. The vast majority of South Ossetians are Russian passport holders.
The republic held a runoff presidential vote in November, when opposition leader Alla Dzhioyeva defeated Anatoly Bibilov, however, the vote’s results were anulled by the republic’s supreme court over alleged vote rigging on part of Dzhioyeva. Dzhioyeva, who was banned from running in the repeat vote, refused to recognize the court's decision but her protests ended in a police crackdown on her office and her brief hospitalization due to heart problems.
Dzhioyeva declared Sunday’s polls “illegitimate” but, suprisingly, said she was happy that the country finally got a leader.
“Thank God the president has been elected, even if he is illegitimate,” she said.
Tibilov promised on Monday to continue developing ties with Russia, aiming to unite South Ossetia with the Russian republic of North Ossetia.
“We will certainly continue along the course towards Russia that has been chosen by our people – a course of further integration… in all existing spheres, including the economy, as well as military, technical, and defense cooperation,” he said adding that South Ossetia “has been and will continue being a devoted partner of Russia at its southern borders.”
“On election day, I said that I would consult with the people, but my goal is to make the long-standing dream of a united North and South Ossetia come true,” the president-elect said.
Reaction from Russia
Moscow has made no official statements regarding Tibilov’s victory as of late Monday afternoon. Instead, a group of senior Russian lawmakers welcomed his election.
Sergei Naryshkin, the speaker of the Russian parliament’s lower house, expressed confidence on Monday that Tibilov would act “in the spirit of existing agreements” between Russia and South Ossetia.
Leonid Slutsky, who heads the State Duma committee in charge of relations with former Soviet republics, also said he believed Russia’s relations with South Ossetia under Tibilov would continue being constructive, while Leonid Kalashnikov, the first deputy head of the parliamentary foreign affairs committee, described Tibilov as a “decent person” whose victory was “fair” and “democratic.”
A group of some 40 observers from Russia, Abkhazia, France, the Transdnistrian Moldovan Republic and Nagorny Karabakh who monitored the vote described it as “open, free and transparent.” The European Union and the United States said earlier they do not recognize the vote as legitimate because they still consider South Ossetia part of Georgia.
Voter turnout in the small Caucasus republic of 72,000 was well over 60 percent in Sunday polls, far above the minimum threshold of 30 percent.
Russian analysts contacted by RIA Novosti agreed that Tibilov’s victory was “predictable.”
“He was ahead of his closest competitor [Sanakoyev] on many issues, including his age, his [political] status and his publicity,” said Vadim Mukhanov from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations’ Center for Caucasian Studies and Regional Security. “Many people voted for Tibilov as a more well-known figure.”
Vladimir Zharikhin, the deputy head of the Moscow-based Institute of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), expressed hope that Tibilov would be able to ensure control of public spending in South Ossetia, whose annual budget is 90-percent funded by Russia.
“While electing the president, the people were concerned with corruption and the misuse of funds provided by Russia,” he said. “It's no surprise that a representative of security forces… has been elected.”
At the same time, Zharikhin said, the narrow difference in Tibilov and ombudsman Sanakoyev’s election results demonstrate the “significant importance” of “civil and political freedoms” for South Ossetian residents.
As for the impact of the vote on Russia’s relations with Georgia, Mukhanov said it could be negative.
“As long as Georgia maintains its position and refuses to recognize the new reality in the region, the situation will remain difficult and the risk of destabilization at the [Georgian] border with South Ossetia and Abkhazia will remain high,” he said.
Russia recognized Abkhazia, another breakaway Georgian republic, as an independent state along with South Ossetia following the August 2008 war.
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