TBILISI, DFWatch–August 24, there will be held presidential election in the breakaway region Abkhazia.
Four candidates are standing in the election, all of whom have general’s rank. Raul Khajimba, the key figure in the toppling of former de facto president Alexandre Ankvab, is expected to win.
Ankvab was forced to resign last spring before the end of his term. On May 29, Abkhazia’s de facto parliament declared distrust in PM Leonid Lakerbaia and proposed that Ankvab should resign voluntarily.
The main reason for the crisis is reduced donations from Russia – from five billion to one billion Russian ruble (USD 140 million to USD 28 million). Considering that 60 percent of Abkhazia’s budget consists of Russian donations, this will be a great blow to the ruling elite.
It is believed that the reduced donation is related to the issue of sale of land in Abkhazia. Even though the ruling elite in the region has been under Russian influence for years, it was still prohibited to sell land to non-Abkhazians, and Russia wanted to change this. Former president Ankvab was against it. Many political analysts think Ankvab was sacked due to his position on this issue.
The so-called election commission of Abkhazia registered the following candidates in the election: Aslan Bzhania, Leonid Dzapshba, Merab Kishmaria and Raul Khajimba. One more candidate, Beslan Eshba, former Vice PM in Ankvab’s government, was rejected as a candidate because he doesn’t know Abkhazian language.
After dismissing Ankvab, active political forces in Abkhazia agreed not to deepen the crisis and to conduct an election campaign within the frames of law, but tension increased as the date of election has come closer. On August 20, a grenade exploded in in front of the house of the head of the so-called election commission, and on August 22, the car of the editor in chief of local newspaper “нужная газета” was shot at with a machine gun. No-one died as a result of the incidents and as it seems they aimed only intimidating people.
Law enforcement is also an important factor in this campaign. All four candidates have rank as general. Two of them, Aslan Bzhania and Merab Kishmaria, used to be heads of law enforcement bodies at the time of registration. Bzhania was acting Head of Security Service and Kishmaria acting Defense Minister. Leonid Zapshba is former Interior Minister.
The candidate most likely to win, Raul Khajimba, is an ally of Ardzinba, an employee of the Soviet KGB, who in 1986-92 used to work in the KGB branch in Tkvarcheli. Khajimba is also a general and used to hold different posts in law enforcement bodies. He used to be Abkhazian Defense Minister as well.
According to a survey conducted by Abkhazia’s social marketing research institute on August 17, Khajimba would receive 51 percent of votes in case of 74 percent voter turnout and would win in the first round. 97 percent of people in Abkhazia know who he is. 45 percent of ethnic Armenians support him, according to the same survey. In the 2003 census, about 45 000 Armenians were living in Abkhazia and they are the third largest ethinc group there, after Georgians and Abkhazians.
The election programs of the candidates do not significantly differ from each other, and all of them mainly promise to deepen relation with Russia. All four promise to open the border with Russia and strengthen trade relations, but uniting with Russia is not popular and it is unimaginable that this issue will be raised. That’s why promises do not go beyond deepening relations and exporting citrus fruits. They also promise to increase tourism, which is again related to the issue of opening the border with Russia.
Preliminary figures indicate that about 131,000 voters can participate in the election, according to Apsnypress.
There are 154 precincts in 33 districts in Abkhazia. It includes districts in Moscow, Cherkessk and Istanbul, which is added to no 5 district of Sukhumi. By Apsnypress, there were 35 districts and 173 precincts in parliamentary election and president election before.
This election differs from the previous election in that the Georgian population in Gali and Tkvarcheli are prohibited from voting. This is the result of a decision to deny people with both Georgian and Abkhazian passports from voting.
Under the region’s de facto legislation, double citizenship is only allowed for persons who have Abkhazian and Russian citizenship. So more than 22,000 people were deprived of their right to vote, which is about 14 percent of the voters in Abkhazia.
According to the so-called election commission, 132,861 people have a right to vote. 22,767 people in Gali and Tkvarcheli are prohibited from voting. 105 people have a right to vote in Gali, and according to local media, most likely there will be no precincts in Gali. 231 people can vote in Tkvarcheli. The majority of the population in both of these regions are ethnic Georgians, who survived the ethnic cleansing in 1993. More than 150,000 Georgians were expelled with the help of Russian and North Caucasus volunteers after the victory in the war. The ethnic cleansing took place in Gagra, Sukhumi, Ochamchire, Gudauta and Gulripi.
This condition grants an advantage to Khajimba, who has lost three presidential elections because of the votes of ethnic Georgians in Abkhazia. The first time was in 2004, when he lost to Sergey Baghabsh; secondly in 2009 and thirdly in 2011 in a special election after the death of Baghabsh, when Alexander Ankvab and Sergey Shamba, ex de-facto Foreign Minister, got more votes than him.
When this decision was made, Koba Bendeliani, a journalist who has been covering events in Abkhazia for many years, told DF Watch that the decision was made because ‘they are afraid that the majority of the Abkhaz population won’t support radical pro-Russian forces and they don’t want this to be added an additional 25,000 votes.’
He also says that all four candidates are pro-Russian and Khajimba is most likely the candidate who will be most willing to further Russian interests. He thinks Khajimba will win.
Officials in Georgia only comment that the election is illegal and Georgia and the international community don’t recognize this election, no matter who participates and wins.