Bagapsh’s successor: How the candidates stack up
Preparations for Abkhaz presidential elections enters decisive phase
On August 26, three candidates will fight for Abkhazia’s de-facto presidency during the elections taking place in Georgia’s unrecognized breakaway region. The candidates include acting President Alexander Ankvab, Prime Minister Sergey Shamba and opposition leader and former vice-president Raul Khajimba.
Taking into consideration that all three candidates are founders of the Abkhazian separatist movement, any electoral outcome will result in pro-Russian policies. That said, the degree to which each candidate would espouse pro-Kremlin policies varies.
It should be expected that if Shamba ends up as the winner, Abkhazia’s domestic and foreign policy will be ‘pro-Russian’; if Khajimba is the winner, then the breakaway republic’s policy will be ‘strongly Russian’; and if it is Ankvab who becomes the president then Abkhaz politics should be described as ‘sophisticated Russian’.
Tbilisi’s position remains largely unchanged: the elections are not viewed as legitimate and the international community does not recognize the process nor will they recognize the final results. However, the political situation in Abkhazia is not as simple as it may seem at first glance.
After President Sergey Bagapsh, 62, died in late May this year in a Moscow hospital from unexpected complications following lung surgery, Abkhazia’s elite are becoming more and more certain that the Kremlin will not allow the Abkhaz leader- whoever he/she is- to promote an independent policy within the breakaway region.
For Moscow, it is absolutely unacceptable to change the demographic balance in Abkhazia, especially at the expense of the Muslim Abkhazians resettled in Turkey. Conspiracy theory aside, people in the coffee houses of Sokhumi will attest that Baghapsh’s visit to Turkey and his efforts to convince ethnic Abkhazians living there to return to their historical homeland cost him his life. With this the Kremlin warned those who are planning for the de-facto presidency in the “post-Baghapsh period” that steps taken independent from the Kremlin are subject to punishment.
Russian Duma MP Konstantin Zatulin stated back when Baghapsh was alive that Baghapsh’s successor should uphold a pro-Russian policy. Zatulin’s statement is pragmatic, in that a lot will depend on the de-facto ruler of Abkhazia before the Sochi Olympics.
The Sochi Olympics will play a larger role in the campaigns of the presidential candidates as the election marathon reaches its end. It can be said boldly that the elections will be conducted under the aegis of the Olympics and the candidate that provides more guarantees to Moscow in this regard will most likely gain victory.
The capacities of those running for the de-facto presidency are not equal in this regard; Alexander Ankvab has the advantage. A former policeman truly has the ability to stifle the Abkhaz nationalists.
At the same time he is considered quite a rough person, which can only lead to negative outcomes in politics. As Zurab Shengelia, professor at Tbilisi State University points out, even if Ankvab wins, he may not last until 2014.
“By nature, Ankvab is a pedantic politician. If you order him, he will arrest his own mother. This is why the whole of Abkhazia is against him. And this is why his relatives from Gudautha organized terrorist acts against him five times,” Shengelia says.
In contrast to Ankvab, Sergey Shamba is considered a flexible politician. He is known in Brussels and Geneva to some extent, to say nothing about Moscow. He demonstrated his abilities in the war with Georgia but could not channel this momentum into successful political gains like Ankvab had done; he was unable to go beyond his cabinet. In the Kremlin’s view, Shamba satisfies only part of the Olympic guarantees.
As for Khajimba, he has one big fault. He is a former trolley-bus driver, which the Abkhazian electorate considers to be quite a disadvantage.
The chances of each presidential candidate largely depend on the candidacies of the vice-presidents as well. It can be said that all three candidates for vice-presidency are politically inexperienced persons.
The only known commodity within Abkhazia’s separatist society is Svetlana Jergenia who teamed-up with Raul Khajimba. She is known because she is the widower of the late President Vladislav Ardzinba; her brother Anri Jergenia was Prosecutor General and later Prime Minister in the government of Ardzinba.
With regard to Sergey Shamba, he has decided to try and win the hearts and minds of the younger voting constituency and, presumably, for this reason he took youth leader Shamin Adzinba (not Ardzinba) to be his vice-president.
Alexander Ankvab took a less expected approach and teamed up with Mikheil Logua, who is not known to anyone. However, the latter is quite close with the richest man in Abkhazia Beslan Buthba and is well connected to the Armenian community living in Abkhazia.
Many think that a large portion of the votes in Abkhazia have already been decided and will fall along partisan lines. As for the undecided voters, it will become known soon who manages to convert them.
By Zaza Jgharkava