Abkhaz Referendum on Early Presidential Elections Deemed Invalid Over Low Turnout

SUKHUMI, Abkhazia - A referendum on early presidential elections held on Sunday in Georgia’s Russian-backed breakaway rebel region Abkhazia has deemed invalid to an incredibly low turnout.

According to the head of the rebel Central Election Commission Batal Tabagua, the voter turnout was a dismal 1.23 per cent.

“Of the 133,207 eligible voters who could have cast a ballot on Sunday, only 1,628 people (1.23%) took part in referendum ’’ Tabagua told Russian-state media outlet RIA Novosti.

De facto Abkhaz President Raul Khajimba declared the referendum invalid once the voter turnout was made public.

“According to the law, the question on early presidential elections can only be put forward after two years. We spent around 8-9 million Russian rubles ($150,000) on the referendum, which could have been spent more effectively considering the current economic situation,”Khajimba said to the Interfax agency.

Abkhaz law stipulates that a referendum is considered valid if it is attended by more than 50% of the total number of registered voters.

The referendum asked residents of Abkhazia whether a new, early presidential election should be held.

Prior of the referendum, the opposition urged the rebel government to postpone the referendum in the fall.

On July 5, more than 1.500 opposition party supporters stormed the rebel republic’s interior ministry building demanding the resignation of Internal Affairs Minister Leonid Dzapshba and the postponement of the referendum on early presidential elections.

Khajimba later announced the temporary suspension of Dzapshba, but steadfastly refused to delay the referendum and castigated the opposition parties for demanding that he agree to their demands.

A referendum on early presidential elections was originally the initiative of Abkhazia’s opposition parties. Those opposed to Khajimba, the head of Abkhazia since 2014, claim he has failed to fulfill his campaign promise of forming a coalition government and carrying out substantial constitutional reforms.

Immediately following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russian-backed rebels in Abkhazia broke away from Georgia. Moscow occupied and effectively annexed the area, as well as Georgia’s other breakaway South Ossetia region.

Moscow recognized South Ossetia and the other occupied Abkhazia region as independent states following the 2008 war.

International law and the United Nations continue to state that the regions remain part of Georgia.

By Tamar Svanidze

Edited by Nicholas Waller

11 July 2016 16:27