A coup in South Ossetia?

The South Ossetian Supreme Court has dramatically and controversially annulled the results of its Presidential election. In announcing its verdict, it also banned Alla Dzhioyeva – the opposition candidate who appeared to have won the election – from competing in a re-run of the election scheduled for March 2012.

RIA Novosti reports that Dzhioyeva’s supporters are calling this a “power takeover”, noting that Dzhioyeva’s supporters are gathering at her campaign headquarters to decide on their next steps.

“We did not take part in this [Supreme Council] meeting… we are not responsible for how the situation will develop,” said spokesman Dzambulat Tedeyev.

The ruling comes after Anatoly Bibiolv, the other candidate in the election, complained that Dzhioyeva had secured her lead in the polls through bribing and intimidating voters. When counting was suspended yesterday, 74 of 85 electoral districts had reported, giving Dzhioyeva 56.74% of the vote, an almost unassailable lead.

News outlets are already reporting that there is considerable doubt within South Ossetia about the legality of the Court’s decision. RFE/RL has reported claims that a number of the Supreme Court’s members refused to participate in the decision, and that all of the members of the Central Elections Commission had previously endorsed the vote. It quoted Dzhioyeva as saying:

“All 15 members of the Central Election Commission signed the final election protocol. Considering this, the actions of the chairman of the Supreme Court, Mr. [Atsamaz] Bichenov, must be seen as absolutely unconstitutional and illegal.”

With South Ossetian presidential candidate Anatoly Bibilov.

Bibilov had secured a very visible endorsement from Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev, and it is notable that one of the witnesses that the Supreme Court heard from was Konstantin Shirshov, a Deputy in the Russian Duma. He testified that he had seen instances of illegal campaigning at polling stations by supporters of Dzhioyeva.

ABC News notes that, although both candidates are relatively pro-Russian in their stance, “Dzhioyeva also supported close ties with Moscow. She had pledged to make the distribution of Russian aid transparent and rebuild houses and infrastructure destroyed by years of neglect and military conflicts between separatists and the central Georgian government.”

It is not clear at this point whether the Supreme Court’s verdict was independent and legally correct, influenced by Russia, or influenced by internal South Ossetian fears about a more transparent regime. Speculation outside of Russia, however, seems to be leaning towards cynical claims of Kremlin manipulation.

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