South Ossetia, a tiny central-Asian state, had a presidential election this weekend. If you are wondering why you’ve never heard of the country, its probably because most of the world doesn’t recognize it. After the Russian-Georgian conflict in 2008, breakaway Russian-dominated state South Ossetia was recognized by Russia and a few other countries, such as Venezuela, Nicaragua and the two Pacific island nations of Tuvalu and Nauru. The rest of the world still views it as a part of Georgia
And when we say an election, that word should be used with caution too. Time’s Simon Schuster does a good job setting the scene for the somewhat crazy situation before the election even started as pro-Kremlin groups tried to ensure the pro-Kremlin president remained in power:
“In June, a group of armed men, representing the South Ossetian army and the office of the presidential guard, walked into the parliament building and demanded that the lawmakers allow President Kokoity to stay for a third term in office. This would require changing the constitution, which the lawmakers refused to do. Several of them, barricaded inside the chamber by the armed intruders, called the press to complain of a “military coup,” and Kokoity quickly got nervous.
“Such demonstrations of the people’s love for the president,” he said of the storming of the parliament, “only create tensions in various segments of our society.” Within hours, Kokoity’s men left the parliament alone, and the president confirmed that he would resign when his term expired.”
So the Kremlin had to find a new candidate, eventually settling on Anatoly Bibilov, who ran on the platform to formally make South Ossetia a Russian state (incidentally another Kremlin candidate wanted to be on the ballot so badly that his supporters stormed the Russian Parliament with machine guns, prompting yet more protests from the parliament about the coup).
But then something no-one expected happened — Bibilov, despite the huge support of the Kremlin, didn’t win. Instead Alla Dzhioyeva, an anti-corruption campaigner, found herself winner with 57 percent of the vote. Now, despite the fact that observers said the election was fair, the country’s Supreme Court met declared the polls void, claiming there had been unconfirmed “irregularities” that have yet to be spelled out. Dzhioyeva was barred from future elections.
Dzhioyeva is refusing to back down, demanding the country’s Supreme Court reach a decision on the election. Now the government buildings in the center of capital city Tskhinvali are sealed off by armored military vehicles, and dozens of military officers, some of whom are masked. Now even the state security service, the KGB, is saying the situation could get out of control.