South Ossetia’s presidential race formally kicked off on Wednesday in scandal, with the electoral authorities refusing to register two key opposition contenders who wished to challenge incumbent president Anatoly Bibilov.
On Wednesday the Central Election Commission (CEC) registered five presidential contenders: Bibilov, Vice-Speaker of parliament Aleksandr Pliyev, chair of the opposition Nykhas party Alan Gagloyev, MP Garri Muldarov, and former MP Dmitriy Tasoyev.
South Ossetian presidential elections are slated to take place on 10 April.
Following the news, Bibilov appealed to all participants urging them to stick to ‘an honest, open struggle’ by signing a joint declaration ‘for clean elections’.
Hopes for fair elections, however, had already dissipated for many with CEC’s Wednesday announcement, as they had refused registration to 12 other candidates, including two candidates seen as potentially strong rivals of Bibilov — the former Defence Minister Ibragim Gassyeyev and MP David Sanakoyev.
The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in the Hauge recently requested an arrest warrant be issued for Sanakoyev for alleged war crimes committed by him and two other former South Ossetian officials during the August 2008 War. Sanakoyev was a presidential representative for human rights at that time.
The reasons behind the rejections remains unclear, with both Gassyeyev and Sanakoyev having collected the required 3,500 signatures to run.
Things got even more complicated on Thursday after the South Ossetian security service, the KGB, claimed to be probing the disappearance of ‘several sheets’ of the lists of signatures of Gassyeyev’s supporters, which they said had been reported to them by a CEC member a day earlier.
Bibilov fired Gassyeyev on 25 February, citing his failure to execute his duties as Bibilov deemed him too focused on his presidential bid.
Bibilov is facing growing criticism, mostly on social media (Facebook and Instagram remain accessible in the region), over increased prices of basic products, as well as over the alleged deployment of local contractors serving in Russia’s Fourth Military Base in South Ossetia to fight in Ukraine.
Footage of military vehicles allegedly departing from Tskhinvali (Tskhinval) to Russia appeared online on Tuesday. OC Media has not been able to independently verify the reports.
The topic of the involvement of South Ossetians in Russia’s war against Ukraine became more sensitive after the local Defence Ministry reported the ‘heroic death’ of Tskhinvali local Andrey Bakayev, a 35-year-old Sergeant in Russia’s 58th Army. The 58th Combined Arms Army is based out of North Ossetia.
Bakayev was buried in the South Ossetian capital on Thursday.
For ease of reading, we choose not to use qualifiers such as ‘de facto’, ‘unrecognised’, or ‘partially recognised’ when discussing institutions or political positions within Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and South Ossetia. This does not imply a position on their status.