South Ossetia’s Supreme Court says three presidential terms unconstitutional

Eduard Kokoity (RIA Novosti / Andrey Archipov)
The former Georgian republic of South Ossetia will have a new president in November after the initiative on the third term for the head of state failed.

­South Ossetia’s leaders are not allowed to hold the presidential office for three terms in a row, the Supreme Court in the republic has ruled. It said that any referendum on this issue would be unconstitutional.

The republic’s incumbent leader, Eduard Kokoity, had earlier asked the court to check the initiative to hold such a referendum with a question: “Do you agree that the same person can hold the office of South Ossetian president for three consecutive terms?” That wording does not conform with the law on referenda in the republic, Supreme Court Head Atsamaz Bichenov said on Tuesday.

At the same time, the court ruled that the second question – on both Ossetian and Russian having the status of official languages – was constitutional.

Kokoity had said he would not run for a third term, but stressed the people have the right to express their views. The initiative of the referendum that would allow him to run again came from a group led by Deputy Defense Minister Ibragim Gasseyev.

The president, however, said nobody would violate the constitution and promised to hold elections in November according to the constitution. He also warned that destructive forces would be prevented from destabilizing the situation and vowed “not to let criminals come to power.”

Following Georgia’s aggression against the breakaway republic in August 2008, Russia and several other countries recognized independence of South Ossetia and another former Georgia’s republic, Abkhazia. Russia remains the main guarantors of the two states’ security.

Despite the Supreme Court’s decision, many in South Ossetia are expressing their support for Kokoity’s next term in office. On Wednesday, a group of people, some of whom reportedly carried arms, interrupted the work of the parliament and demanded that the constitution be amended. Later they left the building after Speaker Stanislav Kochiev promised them a special session on the issue would be held.

According to reports from the republic’s capital, Tskhinval, the group included followers of the incumbent president and members of the initiative group that had proposed the referendum on the third presidential term.

But Kokoity reacted quickly and ordered the country’s prosecutor general to investigate the incident. The president condemned the attempt to influence the work of a legislative body. “Such manifestations of ‘people’s love for the president and support for his course’… only destabilize the situation,” Interfax quoted him as saying.

South Ossetia’s leader once again confirmed his intention to leave office. “There will be no third term. I will keep my word,” he said.

So far only the republic’s Chief Bailiff Sergey Bitiev has announced his plans to run for president in the fall. Meanwhile, the local opposition has established the Popular Front, headed by Dzambolat Tedeev, the main coach of the Russia freestyle wrestling team. He may be nominated as an opposition candidate later.