Two rival, parallel elections in breakaway South Ossetia ended quietly on Sunday evening.
The elections organized by the secessionist authorities will most likely result in the re-election of Eduard Kokoity as South Ossetian ‘President,’ and the referendum will most likely result in an overwhelming yes to independence.
The ‘alternative polls’ informally backed by Tbilisi will bring ex-South Ossetian prime minister Dimitri Sanakoev as an alternative 'leader' of the region, and the alternative referendum will most likely result in a yes to launch talks with Tbilisi on creating a unified federal state with Georgia.
“I have voted for peace and we expect Georgians and Ossetians to build a new state,” Sanakoev said after casting his ballot in Akhalgori, a district in South Ossetia that is controled by the Georgian authorities.
Kokoity also said after he cast a ballot in Tskhinvali that he voted for peace, but added that the Ossetian people do not see their future in Georgia. He also criticized western powers for “pursuing a double-standard policy” and called on them to play a “more constructive role” in the conflict resolution process.
Over 90% of 55 000 eligible voters (over 10 000 living in Russia’s North Ossetian Republic) have cast their ballots, the breakaway South Ossetian Central Election Commission (CEC) in Tskhinvali said.
High voter turnout was reported by the alternative CEC, which is based in Eredvi.
“42,000 voters cast their ballots and we have even received ballots from the Java district,” Uruzmag Karkusov, chairman of the Eredvi-based CEC, said after polling stations were closed at 8 pm local time.
The Java district is the secessionist authorities’ stronghold in the north of South Ossetia. The Eredvi-based CEC claimed that it had polling stations in Java as well.
Georgian television stations broadcasted footage showing a man riding his horse with two ballot boxes on its back, with reports that the ballot boxes had been brought covertly from Java.
Officials in Tskhinvali said claims that the Eredvi-based CEC had polling stations in areas that are under the South Ossetian authorities’ control are part of Tbilisi’s propaganda war.
On Sunday the South Ossetian Press and Information Committee – the official news agency of the secessionist authorities – reported that Tbilisi deployed a special-forces unit in the village of Avnevi to bar local ethnic Ossetians from participation in the polls. The report was strongly denied by the Georgian Interior Ministry.
There were no other reports on Sunday indicating signs of tension during the voting.
Analysts in Tbilisi say that the outcome of the two rival votes will have crucial importance for the peace process.
“These two leaderships of South Ossetia will now compete for winning the hearts and minds of the local population, and their legitimacy will depend on this process of competition,” Ghia Nodia of the Tbilisi-based think-tank Caucasian Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development (CIPDD) told the Georgian Public Broadcaster.
“The alternative polls were very important, as they have demonstrated that there are other voices as well within South Ossetia,” Davit Darchiashvili, chief of the Open Society – Georgia Foundation, told the Georgian Public Broadcaster.
But Russia has already warned that Tbilisi’s attempts to set up an alternative government in South Ossetia may lead to a military confrontation.