Who will win the presidential elections in Abkhazia?
Presidential elections will take place in Abkhazia on August 25. There are nine hopefuls in the race, including incumbent President Raul Khajimba.
Since the beginning of the year, there have been many upheavals in local political life – the main event has been an alleged poisoning attempt of opposition leader Aslan Bzhania, who was put forward as a candidate from a united opposition bloc. He was considered the favourite in the elections.
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The issue of opening a voting station in Turkey has still not been solved. There is a large Abkhaz diaspora in the city of Sakarya, Turkey. Representatives of the diaspora suggested opening a site there, but the Central Election Commission of Abkhazia replied that a polling station was originally going to be opened in Istanbul, and that the change of location should have been agreed upon earlier.
Abkhaz in Turkey say that the site is unlikely to be ready by the morning of August 25.
The main political spectacle in Abkhazia was the debate of candidates on AGTRK, a state television channel, on August 23.
This time the debate was limited to 2.5 hours and four topics: what will be the first steps in the post; economic programme; social change; general reforms.
Of the nine candidates for the discussion, only six came. Oleg Arshba, Astamur Tarba and Raul Khajimba decided not to participate in the television programme.
The most interesting move was made by Oleg Arshba. He arrived at the AGTRK studio, saw that there was no acting president, and left.
The refusal of these four candidates to participate in debates in society was perceived very negatively. Even in the discussion itself, quite a lot of time was devoted to this issue.
Below, JAMnews offers information on all the candidates and the context of the election.
Who are the candidates?
Overall, 10 people had registered as candidates in the upcoming presidential elections — that is, until August 20 when the Central Election Commission took Astamur Otyrba out of the running.
The reason behind this decision was the fact that he had not registered with a vice-president. His original vice-presidential candidate had withdrawn his candidacy, and Otyrba had not been able to find another.
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Among the remaining nine candidates, in addition to the incumbent President Raul Khajimba, are the following political figures:
• Alkhas Kvitsinia, representing the block of opposition forces (in place of Aslan Bzhania)
• Oleg Arshba, representing another opposition group connected to ex-president Alexander Ankvab
• Former head of the Abkhaz National Security Service Astamur Tarba, returning to politics after a 15-year hiatus.
• Deputy Almas Dzhapua, leader of the organisation Obschee delo [Eng: Common Cause], which positions itself as a third candidate
• Former Vice Prime Minister Shamil Ardzinba.
• Former Minister of Internal Affairs Leonid Dzyapshba.
• Another candidate — Astamur Kakalia — appeared on the Abkhaz political scene on the eve of the elections. He is running on an anti-corruption platform.
• Voters know virtually nothing about the tenth candidate, Artur Ankvab.
Who is the favorite?
There is no obvious favorite in this race. There are usually no polls taken to measure candidates’ ratings in Abkhazia.
Local journalists rely on conversations with the electorate and consider this method reliable enough to make accurate political forecasts.
JAMnews writer and editor Inal Khashig says that the election campaign is taking place amid unprecedented voter apathy:
“The majority either do not know who to vote for or are not going to vote at all,” says Inal Khashig, tying voter apathy to years of accumulated public mistrust – the people are tired of hearing promises that are never fulfilled, Khashig notes.
Why are there so many candidates?
Ten is a large number of political candidates for Abkhazia, as there are only about 160,000 registered voters.
Observers believe that the large number of people wanting to compete for the presidency is the result of internal conflict.
“If the government was strong and able to manage the country well, few people would dare compete with it,” said Chairman of the United Abkhazia Party Sergey Shamba to the Caucasian Knot.
What do voters want?
Experts and journalists agree that citizens have three demands for the administration:
• Improve the quality of life
• Find a solution to the crime situation
• Weed out corruption and downsize the bureaucracy
But if there is a candidate capable of at least starting to resolve these issues, they have yet to step forward. At least, this is what people are saying on social media, and most experts agree.
It is worth noting that none of these candidates have a clear platform — another traditional element of Abkhaz politics.
“From election to election, politicians have gotten along with no plans of action, and those who admired their ‘talents’ still voted for them,” says Inal Khashig.
For decades, the struggle of individual groups fighting for their own interests has continued in Abkhazia. But it seems that this era is coming to an end. Now, voters demand something concrete.
Who does the Kremlin support?
Russian president Vladimir Putin did not openly express his support, but his meeting with current president Raul Khajimba in Abkhazia at the beginning of August was seen as a clear message of the Kremlin’s stance on the issue.
• Shortly before the elections in Abkhazia, Putin spoke with Khajimba in Sochi
Putin’s gesture was reminiscent of the 2004 Abkhazian presidential election, when Putin openly supported then-Prime Minister of Abkhazia Raul Khajimba. The situation turned into a serious political crisis when the elections were won not by the Russia-backed candidate, but by Sergei Bagapsh.
Raul Khajimba did not recognize the results of the election. As a result, the republic was on the verge of a serious civil conflict.
The crisis was only avoided when the two candidates were able to reach a compromise. New elections were announced, and Bagapsh ran as a presidential candidate with Khajimba as his vice-president.