Preliminary results published by the election administration of occupied Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia late on May 8 shows opposition challenger Alan Gagloev defeating incumbent leader Anatoly Bibilov in the S. Ossetian leadership runoff.
With 18% of precincts counted, Gagloev has received 59.22% ( 3,686 votes), while Bibilov garnered 37% (2,274 votes). Some 3.79% (236 votes) did cast their ballots against both.
Gagloev, 41, is a former state security committee officer, who chairs “parliamentary” opposition party Nykhas since 2020. As per his official biography, he participated in Russo-Georgian War of 2008.
“I feel proud of the people, of the fact that the people expressed their opinion, and of the fact that Anatoly Ilyich [Bibilov] acknowledged [defeat in] the election,” said Gagloev, who is set to become the fifth “president” of the region.
Bibilov was quick to concede defeat. “For me the choice of the people is not subject to doubt, I keep my word,” local RES news agency cited Bibilov as telling reporters. “I really hope that he [Gagloev] will succeed.”
Five-year term of Bibilov, 52, has been marred by allegations of violence by police officials and more recently, with the controversy over S. Ossetian servicemen’s presence in Russia’s war in Ukraine.
In the first round, Bibilov ended second with 9,706 votes (34.95%), while Gagloev took the upper hand with 10,707 votes (38.55%). Three other opposition candidates that failed to advance to the second round — deputy speaker Alexandr Pliev, lawmaker Garri Muldarov and ex-deputy Dmitry Tasoev — all rallied around Gagloev.
During the pre-election campaign, Gagloev extensively discussed “lawlessness” in the region, the problem of separation of powers, judiciary, and the weakness of self-governing bodies. He also stressed social inequality, with Russian donations ending in the pockets of powerful few, while many live in hardships.
Moscow’s possible annexation of the province has also dominated the election campaign, as Bibilov took steps to secure “unification” with Russia just days before the first round of April 10.
Gagloev took a cautious stance on the issue, arguing that “joining” Russia was not at the moment in Moscow’s favor, and lambasted Bibilov for using the topic for election purposes.
- Tskhinvali Leadership Hopeful Shows Cautious Stance on Annexation
- S. Ossetian Servicemen Make Puzzling Retreat from Ukraine
Moscow recognized the independence of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali Region on August 26, 2008, two weeks after the end of the Russo-Georgian war.
Tbilisi and most of the international community regard the two regions as part of Georgia, and denounce the vote in the occupied region as illegitimate.
As things stand, some 30 thousand ethnic Georgians remain uprooted from Tskhinvali Region following the armed conflict in 1991-92 and the Russo-Georgian War of 2008.
Shrinking ethnic Georgians population of the region, that still make up the majority in occupied Akhalgori district, have faced continued closure of crossing points with Tbilisi-controlled territory since September 2019, following the escalation around Georgian police checkpoint in a faraway Chorchana-Tsnelisi area.
While Bibilov vowed to keep the closure unless Tbilisi removed the police post, Gagloev took a tone of reconciliation.
During his meeting with Akhalgori residents in late April, Gagloev pledged to solve the issue of freedom of movement with Georgia proper: “[Akhalgori] population demanded the opening of this road… We will gather like this to discuss and solve the problem.”