Supporters of the former president of the de facto Republic of South Ossetia, Eduard Kokoyty, are protesting demanding the resignation of the incumbent president, Leonid Tibilov, after Kokoyty was refused registration as a presidential candidate.
On 4 March, the Central Election Commission (CEC) refused to register Kokoyty, who was president from 2001–2011, for the upcoming presidential elections on 9 April. In response, Kokoyty’s supporters marched on the Supreme Court of South Ossetia in the capital Tskhinvali (Tskhinval). At a rally on 13 March, approximately 300 people gathered, waving Russian and South Ossetian flags and holding up portraits of Kokoyty and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Despite the protests, the court ruled on 14 March to uphold the CEC’s decision. Kokoyty called the decision ‘contrived’.
According to Caucasian Knot, despite pleas from the Secretary of the Security Council, Anatoly Pliyev, that Kokoyty tell his supporters to go home and ‘speak calmly’ on the morning of 15 March, Kokoyty refused to bow to pressure, and his supporters camped out overnight on 14 March near the seat of government, while Kokoyty himself remained inside the building in overnight talk. Riot police were present outside the building.
— Olesya Vartanyan (@Olesya_vArt) March 15, 2017
According to Caucasian Knot, Kokoyty’s campaign head, Sergey Kharebov, said that overnight talks had resulted in an agreement for further talks with President Leonid Tibilov. If these do not take place, ‘the protesters will decide what to do’, he noted.
The official explanation for the CEC’s refusal is that Kokoyty has not lived in South Ossetia permanently over the last five years (which is a mandatory requirement for presidential candidates). The CEC also claimed that Kokoyty provided untrue information about his property holdings, and did not submit documents confirming his membership of political party Yedinstvo (Unity).
On 6 March, Kokoyty accused the CEC of releasing ‘falsified’ information, and according to Caucasian Knot reported that the decision was made on the instructions of Russian presidential aide Vladislav Surkov, and chief adviser to Russian president, Aleksey Filatov.
Kokoyty is not the only person refused registration as a candidate. Russian state-run news agency Sputnik Ossetia reported that the CEC declined to register Amiran Bagayev, but has already accepted the candidacy of current president Leonid Tibilov, the Speaker of Parliament, Anatoly Bibilov, and South Ossetian KGB officer Alan Gagloev.
According to the RFE/RL, Tibilov and Bibilov have been at odds over the optimum approach to engineering the region’s incorporation into the Russian Federation, while Kokoyty, by contrast, supports independence for South Ossetia and is against joining with Russia. While he acknowledges Russia’s position as a strategic partner, Kokoyty criticised the deployment of Russian border guards in South Ossetia in the autumn of 2016.
While South Ossetia prepares for presidential elections and a referendum to rename South Ossetia ‘Alania’, the international community has called the referendum ‘illegal’, as it takes place without the consent of Georgia.