South Ossetia elects president in first poll since war

People in the Republic of South Ossetia in the North Caucasus are going to the polls to elect a new president. The new leader will not have an easy job as the republic is still recovering from its devastating war with Georgia three years ago.

­The republic has opened 84 polling stations, with two more operating outside South Ossetia in its embassies in Moscow and Sukhum. About 1,200 police officers have been drafted in to ensure law and order at the polling stations and surrounding areas.

The number of voters registered in the republic is 32,700, according to Bella Plieva,  who chairs the South Ossetian Central Electoral Commission, as cited by Itar-Tass. Overseas voters bring the total to some 50,000.

This is the first election for a decade not to feature the current leader of South Ossetia, Eduard Kokoyti. The incumbent president is not eligible to stand in the polls as he has already served two consecutive terms.

Observers say the outcome of the upcoming vote is among the most unpredictable for years, because of the sheer number of candidates eager to get their hands on the levers of power.

Seventeen candidates were initially set to battle it out for the top job, but just a couple of days ago that figure dropped to 11 when some hopefuls decided to join forces, feeling they had a better chance fighting together, than fighting each other.

Word on the streets of South Ossetia puts the current Emergencies Minister, Anatoliy Bibilov, as favorite.

“We need to start from the development of our region, the development of infrastructure, economy, tourism,” Bibilov says.

Indeed, the number one challenge is to finish rebuilding the devastated region following the 2008 war with Georgia. The capital of South Ossetia, Tshinval, still looks like more of a construction site than a home to around 30,000 people.

But other candidates feel that solid foundations are needed for some far more fundamental things than houses.

“Our main problems are not damaged buildings and roads, but mostly the lack of unity among the people of our republic,” says presidential hopeful Alla Dzioeva. “We don’t feel like we are one nation.”

But as always, the resilient people of this war-torn republic are putting their hopes in the future.

“I would like the future president to finish what the former one started – to finish the reconstruction,” says one woman.

“South Ossetia needs economic development, that’s the first thing that should be done,” agrees a local man.

With so many candidates standing, the need for a second-round run-off is the only thing that looks certain about this election.

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