Q&A: South Ossetian separatist presidential election

image captionSupporters of presidential candidate Alla Dzhioyeva during November's election campaign

Voters in Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia will go to the polls on Sunday to try to choose a president for the third time in less than five months.

Two rounds of voting in November delivered victory to Alla Dzhioyeva, a long-time opponent of the outgoing president Eduard Kokoity in the Russia-backed self-proclaimed republic. The region's supreme court, chaired by a Kokoity ally, overturned the result, leading to protests by Ms Dzhioyeva's supporters and clashes with police.

This time the field is less clear, with all candidates distancing themselves from Mr Kokoity and Russia not expressing any preference. Pro-Kremlin Mr Kokoity had been president of the region since 2001, but faced accusations from the opposition and former aides of cronyism and mismanagement of Russian aid after the 2008 Russo-Georgian war. He quit in December, but his allies still wield significant influence in parliament and the judiciary.

Who are the candidates?

In the November poll, 17 candidates stood in the first round, but this time the electoral commission has registered only four out of 22 applicants. All four support Russia and oppose any form of engagement with Georgia.

Dmitry Medoyev has been South Ossetia's envoy to Moscow since 2002. Although a government insider, he vows to disband parliament to stop Kokoity trying to regain power and promises tighter supervision of Russian aid.

Leonid Tibilov was head of the South Ossetian KGB in 1992-1998, later serving as first deputy prime minister and co-chairman of a Georgian-Ossetian peacekeeping commission. He is backed by Dzhambulat Tedeyev, a prominent Kokoity opponent who supported Alla Dzhioyeva in the November election. Russian commentators see him as the candidate best placed to pick up the votes of Ms Dzhioyeva's supporters.

Davit Sanakoyev has been South Ossetia's human rights ombudsman since 2004. Born in 1976, he is the youngest candidate. Political analyst Dina Alborova says his youth is an asset as he can present himself as a "man of a new mindset".

Stanislav Kochiyev, the veteran Communist Party leader who was parliament speaker in 1999-2004, came second to Kokoity in the 2001 presidential election. He recently suffered a stroke.

Who is the frontrunner?

South Ossetian, Russian and Georgian analysts have not been able to identify a clear favourite, although Mr Kochiyev stands little chance because of his health problems.

Where does Alla Dzhioyeva stand?

Alla Dzhioyeva struck a deal with the authorities in December under which President Kokoity and two senior allies, including Supreme Court Chairman Atsamaz Bichenov, would step down and she would agree to stand again in the new presidential election. Although Mr Kokoity did resign, the other two stayed. Ms Dzhioyeva pulled out of the election, and declared herself president.

The mass protests in her support that followed briefly threatened to destabilise the region, but eventually fizzled out. Ms Dzhioyeva's allies abandoned her cause, and her attempt to stage a presidential inauguration on 10 February was broken up by police, leaving her in hospital complaining of assault. She has refused to endorse any of the candidates in the current election.

Where does Russia stand?

Russia is the economic, political and military patron of the South Ossetian separatists, having backed them against Georgia in the early 1990s and the brief 2008 war. Russia recognised South Ossetia as an independent state in 2008, and clearly backed Anatoly Bibilov in the 2011 presidential election. He lost in the run-off to Alla Dzhioyeva.

This time Russia is not openly supporting any candidate. Some Russian commentators think that the November debacle and Russia's own recent parliamentary and presidential elections have led the Kremlin to sit this vote out.

Georgian analyst Paata Zakareishvili says all four candidates are firmly pro-Kremlin and therefore unlikely to cause Russia any trouble. Dmitry Sanakoyev, the head of the pro-Georgian South Ossetia administration in Tbilisi, sees Mr Medoyev as Russia's favourite.

Where does Georgia stand?

Georgia, along with the whole international community save for a few Russian allies, regards South Ossetia as Georgian territory under illegal Russian occupation.

It condemns all elections held there and in the analogous separatist Abkhazia region, because they are conducted by Russia's "puppet occupation regimes" and give no right to vote to the ethnic Georgian and other displaced people who fled or were expelled in the 1991-1993 and 2008 conflicts.

The Human Rights Watch international watchdog estimates that fewer than 3,000 Georgians remain in South Ossetia out of the 17,500 estimated to live there in 2008, and it is not clear whether they are registered to vote or not.

Are there likely to be any mass protests this time?

The contest this time is not as polarised as in November 2011, when pro- and anti-Kokoity candidates faced off in an atmosphere of considerable public discontent. The annulling of the election result and the subsequent collapse of the opposition-parliament agreement was the catalyst for brief protests, and a less contentious election is unlikely to spark immediate anger.

BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaux abroad.

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