Georgia's rebel South Ossetia holds tense runoff
Ex-Soviet Georgia's rebel region of South Ossetia on Sunday held a tightly contested run-off election for its next leader in a poll recognised by Russia but no other major Western state.
The first round on November 13 failed to produce an outright winner, with South Ossetia's emergencies minister Anatoly Bibilov and ex-education minister Alla Dzhioyeva winning around 25 percent of the vote each.
Bibilov's inability to win anything close to an overall majority was a major surprise after his candidacy was unequivocally backed by the Kremlin and South Ossetia's outgoing leader Eduard Kokoity.
Polls will close at 8:00 pm (1600 GMT) and will require a 30-percent turnout to be declared valid. The first official results are expected on Monday morning.
The elections were the first leadership polls in the breakaway statelet since Russia recognised it as independent in the wake of Moscow's 2008 war with Tbilisi over South Ossetia and another breakaway region Abkhazia.
The United States and the European Union both dismissed the first round of polls as illegitimate while Georgia denounced them as a "cynical act of pseudo-democracy".
The electorate in South Ossetia is also tiny: while the rebel authorities say its population is 70,000, Georgian officials argue that the figure is no more than 15,000 due to the expulsion of ethnic Georgians and migration.
In an apparent attempt to bolster Bibilov's position ahead of the vote, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev met the candidate in southern Russia last week.
Dzhioyeva, the only female candidate in the first round, appears to have benefited from the local authorities' visible failure to properly rebuild South Ossetia's central town of Tskhinvali after the war.
Kokoity, a former wrestling champion who has dominated South Ossetia for a decade, has also made no secret of his hostility towards her candidacy.
In an interview with Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda, he said it was "excluded" that a woman could win.
"We have good relations with women in our society. But the Caucasus are the Caucasus," he said.
© 2011 AFP