Abkhazia: Whom to elect for president?
It’s getting hotter in Abkhazia – and not just because it’s summer. It’s election season.
Presidential elections are scheduled for August 25, but most experts agree there is likely to be a second round of voting.
Candidate registration began on June 26, but leading candidates have long made public their intention to run.
JAMnews looks at the the main candidates for the presidency of Abkhazia.
The main fight will be between the opposition and the incumbent president Raul Khajimba, who has on several occasions spoken about his intention to run for a second term.
Opposition leader Aslan Bzhania received the nomination of the bloc of opposition forces and will also take part in the elections – if he is able to: he is considered the favorite of the race, but since April 2019 he has been hospitalized in a German clinic. The opposition and civil sector say he was poisoned.
However, the opposition probably has a substitute candidate for Bzhania should he not recover to participate in the elections. Officially, this will be decided at the congress of Amtsakhara, the largest opposition party that unites veterans from war with Georgia.
Social media users have been speculating that chairman of the party, Alkhas Kvitsinia, may be nominated. It is possible that both Bzhania and Kvitsinia will be nominated for the elections.
We can expect the appearance of another opposition candidate, since former president and the heavyweight of Abkhaz politics Alexander Ankvab has not yet declared his own man in the race.
Many of his supporters today support the candidacy of Bzhania. But it can be expected that Ankvab will still nominate his candidate – and then, most likely, Bzhania will lose the support of some of his supporters
Less well-known, but promising figures
The former head of the state security service Astamur Tarba was the first to come out with his intention to run for president back in March. He has been absent in the public political space since 2004.
Independent MP Almas Japua has also announced his candidacy. For the past ten years, he has been extremely active in politics – but he is the only potential candidate who has never held public office.
The media speculates that the current mayor of Sukhum Adgur Kharazia may also become a candidate.
Former Vice PM Shamil Adzinba and ex-Minister of the Interior Leonid Dzapshba will also likely run.
Eliminate corruption, defeat crime and reform
The three points – the fight against corruption and crime and the need for reform – are likely to be identified as priorities in the electoral programs of everyone who decides to run for the presidency.
Below: the programs of how each candidate intends to deal with these tasks.
Incumbent Raul Khajimba
Raul Khajimba is 61 years old, and took up the presidency of Abkhazia in 2014 on his fourth attempt. At various times he has headed the state security service and worked as vice-president. He is largely remember as the successor of Vladislav Ardzinba and the eternal leader of the opposition.
“Corruption has not disappeared and never, I think, will disappear. We need to minimize it as far as possible”, said Khajimba at one of his press conferences.
The president has not delcared a specific program. Although he has proposed to parliament to adopt a law on the declaration of income and promised to sign it immediately.
In 2014–2015, Raul Khajimba, as soon as he became president, attempted to tackle time.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs carried out several successful operations, in particular, the gangs that terrorized the population of the Gali region [ed. settled by Georgians] were defeated.
However, this all came to an end as soon as the attempt faced more resistance.
The turning point was 2016, when the authorities failed to restore order in a local prison. The protests that followed the violent actions led to the storming of the building of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The authorities had to retreat before the onslaught of crime.
“In a short period, the number of criminal ‘authorities’ and so-called ‘watchmen’ has increased [in Abkhazia] by several times. Often, the representatives of the security forces themselves turn to them for help when a crime is committed. Criminal groups, feeling their ‘relevance’, try to influence the economic and political processes”, said Khajimba at a meeting at the Interior Ministry.
He said that one of the problems was that the Ministry of the Interior relies on personnel trained in the Soviet period — that is, more than thirty years ago.
However, Khajimba has not put forward a specific program to defeat crime.
The demand for political reform was one of the main tenets of Raul Khajimba’s platform when he came to power in 2014.
And in January 2015, by the decree of Khakimba, a commission on constitutional reform was created.
The process was even divided into three stages – the reform of the electoral system; reforming local government and administration; rebalancing the legislative and executive branches of government.
But during the four years of the presidency of Raul Khajimba, the main slogan that brought his team to power remains in the realm of intentions and mottos.
Leader of the opposition
Aslan Bzhania is 56 years old, a member of the Abkhaz parliament. Just like the current president, he was the head of the state security service.
In the presidential election in 2014, Bzhania received 35.91 percent of the vote. And immediately after the inauguration of the new president, Khajimba, on September 29, 2014, Bzhania was dismissed from all government posts.
Then Bzhania moved into the ranks of the political opposition.
Aslan Bzhania said more than once that he had appealed to the security council, to the cabinet of ministers, to the prosecutor general’s office and to the speaker of parliament asking about the need for anti-corruption expertise.
“I never received any answers. I think that such work was not carried out”, said Bzhania.
Bzhania did not publish his own anti-corruption action program.
During the five years spent in the opposition, Aslan Bzhania has had much to say publicly about the problem of crime.
“If we start from official statistics, things don’t look that bad. The ratio of the number of registered crimes and the number of solved is quite normal. But … many serious crimes are not registered at all, so we can only guess about an objective, not embellished picture,” Aslan Bzhania said in one of his interviews.
He has never proposed a program to combat crime.
A few months ago, Aslan Bzhania published his concept of reform of public administration, law enforcement, and the judiciary.
In brief, the concept is as follows.
• When society loses faith in the state, it begins to solve problems on its own. This is how clans and armed communities arise. Therefore, it is necessary to create a management structure that is compact and efficient.
• The fight against corruption, the shadow economy and organized crime should be a strategic priority for Abkhazia, and first of all the judicial system should be open and uncontrolled. To do this, we need an early introduction of modern information technologies into the judicial system.
Disruption – a third force
Almas Japua is 40 years old and an MP of the Abkhaz parliament. He nominated for the presidency by the organization Common Cause. He is known for two initiatives: to impose a moratorium on the sale of real estate to foreigners and to prohibit oil production in Abkhazia [both projects are supported by Moscow].
In 2016, Japua’s car exploded in the center of Sukhum. Whose handiwork this was is officially still unknown.
Almas Japua has specific proposals on all three main topics.
Japua has more than once been the plaintiff in high-profile corruption cases. Several months ago, he accused ex-president Ankvab of participating in corruption schemes around oil extraction agreements.
“We need a systematic fight against corruption in three directions at once: in the legal, institutional and informational field,” Japua told JAMnews.
His programme looks like this:
Create a fully-fledged anti-corruption law and introduce such notions as “illegal enrichment” and “conflict of interests” into the criminal code.
•Make the declaration of property mandatory.
•Establish an anti-corruption committee that is accountable to the president so that he is personally responsible for the fight against corruption. And it is necessary to give this committee the right to independently enter the whole process: inquiry, operations, investigation and bringing charges to court.
•Create a system of information support for the project, promoting zero tolerance towards corruption.
The fight against crime has to start with the law enforcement system, Almas Japua told JAMnews.
For this you need a complete reformation. Only two units should remain – the patrol service, which will combine the functions of the traffic police and the immediate response to the appeals of citizens, and the investigative-operational structure.
In parallel, Japua says, it is necessary to reform the prosecutor’s office and the courts.
Almas Japua believes that it is necessary to begin with the reform of parliament and the creation of a political system similar to that in developed countries.
“The lower house of parliament should be formed through elections on party lists. The top one consists of representatives of the regions, that is, of local deputies”, Japua told JAMnews.
At the same time, the lower chamber should be given more functions in terms of control over the executive power.”
What do voters think?
Here are some characteristic responses to two questions we posed to residents of Abkhazia.
What are main problems in Abkhazia?
“Infrastructure: there are no roads, unstable water supply and electricity. And the mess in the law enforcement system makes it easy to avoid punishment.”
“Unemployment and low wages”
“Crime and lawlessness of drivers on the roads.”
“Corruption and lies of all power structures”.
What kind of person do you think should lead Abkhazia?
“We need a new leader.”
“Educated, honest, one that loves his country.”
“An honest man”.
“A young leader”.
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