TSKHINVALI, Georgia — An opposition candidate on Monday appeared to have won a presidential election in the breakaway Georgian province of South Ossetia, beating a pro-Kremlin hopeful in what experts called a failure of Moscow's policies in the strategic enclave.

Corruption champion and former education minister Alla Dzhioyeva has won 56.7 percent of Sunday's run-off vote, while Emergencies Minister Anatoly Bibilov got 40 percent, the South Ossetian election commission said after counting 74 of the 85 precincts in the province the size of Rhode Island.

Bibilov, who had the support of Russia's dominant pro-Kremlin party, refused to concede and complained to a court about alleged violations.

Bibilov was endorsed by outgoing separatist leader Eduard Kokoity, a two-time president who declared South Ossetia's independence following the brief 2008 war between Russia and Georgia over the province.

After the conflict, Moscow expanded its military presence in the strategic South Caucasus region located between the Caspian and Black Seas and pledged to restore South Ossetia's economy and infrastructure.

South Ossetia broke away from Georgia's central government during a war in the early 1990s, and many locals hailed the declaration of independence hoping for international recognition and economic improvements in the province of 60,000 people that relies heavily on its agriculture and Russian aid.

But living standards deteriorated rapidly amid economic isolation and sanctions from Georgia, while only four countries — Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua and the South Pacific island nation of Nauru — recognized South Ossetian as an independent republic.

Meanwhile, critics accused Kokoity's government of embezzling Russia's multimillion aid while thousands of South Ossetians continued to live in half-destroyed houses and apartment buildings with irregular water and electricity supply.

Dzhioyeva pledged to fight corruption and make the process of distributing Russian aid transparent. Like her rival Bibilov, she has called for close ties with Russia.

Both candidates won some 25 percent of the vote in the first round of the election two weeks ago.

An expert on the region said that Bibilov's loss would signify Moscow's shortsightedness in the strategic province where Russia maintains a military presence.

"Despite its status of a great power, Russia cannot install the candidate it needs in a tiny unrecognized republic whose dependence on Moscow's will is 100 percent," Pavel Svyatenkov told the Kommersant daily on Monday.

AP reporters Misha Dzhindzhikhashvili and Mansur Mirovalev contributed to this report from Moscow and Tbilisi, Georgia.