Residents of Georgia’s rebel region of South Ossetia, where most residents have Russian passports, turned out in force Sunday to queue for hours and vote in Russia’s parliamentary polls.
Their strong turnout came amid an ongoing crisis over the breakaway region’s own elections last week which were condemned as illegitimate by the West but also invalidated by its own supreme court after the opposition candidate won.
Voters in the rebel capital Tskhinvali swamped the polling station set up in a local school decorated with Russian and South Ossetian flags, praising Russia for its military support against Georgia in a brief 2008 war.
“Me and all my friends are voting with great pleasure,” said Klavdia Kumaritova, who waited in line for four hours to get her ballot. “It’s very important. There is no life for us without Russia.”
“Everyone I know is voting for (majority party) United Russia,” she added.
The two polling stations set up in Tskhinvali were overseen by Russian consulate employees, an AFP correspondent said, adding however that they lacked any list of registered voters.
Anyone could get a ballot upon presentation of a Russian passport, which could be done repeatedly.
Meanwhile, South Ossetians have staged a protest for the fourth day demanding that Russia recognise their own elections from last weekend in which a candidate with Kremlin backing unexpectedly lost to opposition challenger Alla Dzhioyeva.
About 150 people continued their defiant occupation of the Tskhinvali central square, taking turns to cast their ballots “for Russia”.
However most protestors still praised Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party and pledged allegiance to Russia, which they consider a saviour after it recognised South Ossetia’s independence following the war with Georgia.
“We will vote for Russia which has saved us so many times,” said Yana Dzhoyeva, one protestor on the square. “We really want to vote for United Russia.
The Russian ambassador in South Ossetia Elbrus Kargiyev said Sunday there were 43,000 people in the region with Russian citizenship. The ITAR-TASS news agency said 90 percent of the population had Russian citizenship.
Russia’s recognition of South Ossetia as independent but was followed only by a handful of far-flung states. The West considers the region to be an integral part of Georgia.