Unrecognized republic of Abkhazia held its Parliamentary elections on March 2, this attempt at democracy did not increase the degree of political participation in a breakaway region of Georgia, neither had it added an international legitimacy to the Abkhaz regime.
A political process in Abkhazia is distorted by a siege mentality and flashbacks of the militant recent events, as well as the periodic escalations in Gali region and upper Kodori gorge. Under these circumstances the current regime tends to have problems with internal legitimacy.
No opposition parties have participated in recent elections, while some of them made quire radical statements Representatives of the opposition parties: “Abkhazia’s Revival”, “People’s Party” and “Amtsakhara” stated, they do not want to be the members of Vladislav Ardzinba’s [President of breakaway Abkhazia] ‘puppet parliament.
On February 27, leaders of “Abkhazia’s Revival” party Leonid Lakerbaia and Tamaz Ketsba issued a statement, saying that the real power in Abkhazia is Ardzinba’s government, while the parliament remains a façade. They called upon the voters to not to participate in the elections.
Ardzinba himself is, according to the reports, hospitalized in one of the Moscow clinics. The members of the government squabble for power in absence of the ailing leader. It is clear, that regardless of the election results none of the forces in opposition to Ardzinba will be in the parliament. Hence, internal tensions in breakaway republic’s government would only increase.
In addition to the internal problems, the international community remains adamant at not recognizing the elections as legitimate.
The Chairman-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Portugal’s Foreign Minister Jaime Gama, expressed his deep concern at the intention of the Abkhaz leadership to conduct so-called parliamentary elections on 2 March. He said that no elections would be recognized as legitimate until the ethnic-Georgian displaced persons are allowed to return to Abkhazia.
The Council of Europe [CoE] expressed the same opinion. “A ballot cannot be legitimate as long as tens and hundreds of thousands of people who cannot return to their homes in Abkhazia are deprived of these human rights,” Walter Schwimmer, CoE Secretary General announced on March 5.
This was the second “Parliamentary elections” in unrecognized Republic since the Georgian government lost its control over the breakaway region in 1993. Since that time approximately 300,000 displaced persons from Abkhazia are not able to participate in the elections. The international organizations, including UN, OSCE, CoE, have declared also denied legitimate recognition of the previous elections in Abkhazia.
Member of the Georgian Parliament, chairman of the “Abkhazia” faction Givi Lominadze says Lakerbaia is being considered as the prime opponent to Ardzinba’s government. He adds Lakerbaia and his followers agree to the federal relations of Abkhazia within the Georgian state.
Tbilisi-based Abkhazia government-in-exile also casts doubts at voter turnout figures posted by the de facto Abkhaz authorities. According to these figures 200,000 voters were registered while the government-in-exile says that there are only 80,000 residents on Abkhazian territory at present. Apparently, the names of refugees that are registered in Abkhazia, but are now scattered all over Georgia, were used during the elections.
However, the observers agree that certain part of the Georgian population of spontaneously returning to the Gali district participated in the” elections, but the exact number of these voters is unknown. Givi Lominadze says that several ethnic Georgians were among the candidates as well and he attributes these facts to the permanent threats and pressure the ethnic Georgians are under in Gali.
The political struggle in and around Abkhazia does not help to untie the knot of problems in the breakaway region. The UN-proposed document “On Distribution of Responsibilities between Tbilisi and Sukhumi” remains the sole document on the table to allow for the basis of the political resolution. However, the Abkhaz side already expressed their unwillingness to use this document before the Georgian military detachments do not leave Pankisi.
The Georgian law enforcers also seem to be emboldened by the recent news of the US military assistance to Georgia. The Minister of State Security Valeri Khaburdzania stated recently the Afghan terrorists’ routes could be traced to Abkhazia.
In an environment of mutual mistrust and suspicion between Tbilisi and Sukhumi, public indifference and alienation between the communities the lasting peace in a troubled region seems to be as far as ever.
By Jaba Devdariani, Salome Jashi, Civil Georgia