Referendum in breakaway Abkhazia on Sunday to decide whether to call early presidential election was declared invalid due to low voter turnout.
Only 1,628 voters, 1.2% of total of about 133,000 eligible voters, turned out at the polling stations, according to the breakaway region’s central election commission (CEC), official Abkhaz news agency, Apsnipress, reported.
Participation of more than half of eligible voters was required for the validity of the referendum.
Of those 1,628 voters, who cast ballot in Sunday’s referendum, 750 voted in favor of snap presidential election, and 761 voted against, according to the CEC.
Opposition groups, which were demanding the referendum to be postponed for autumn, announced boycott on the eve of the vote.
Abkhaz leader Raul Khajimba signed on June 1 a decree to hold the referendum, less than three months after opposition filed a petition with the central election commission requesting calling of such a referendum.
But five days before the vote, on July 5, supporters and members of opposition Amtsakhara party gathered at an outdoor rally and demanded from the authorities to postpone the referendum, claiming that they had no enough time for campaign; the opposition also complained about having no access to the state television to bring their message to voters.
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The protest rally grew into scuffles with the police after several hundred demonstrators tried to storm the Interior Ministry building in Sokhumi on July 5; more than a dozen of people were injured. The authorities had to meet some of the opposition’s demands – the Interior Minister was suspended from office and voters with expired passports allowed to cast ballot, but the Abkhaz leader rejected to postpone the referendum.
Opposition party, Amtsakhara, said in a statement on July 9 that Khajimba’s goal was to effectively thwart the referendum by not giving the opposition enough time to campaign in favor of the early presidential election and to then “portray it as opposition’s failure.”
“It will lead to even more wave of public protest,” said the opposition party said, which announced the boycott of the referendum. “The state has not created conditions for free expression of voters’ will… We will not recognize results of this referendum.”
In a written statement on July 10, president’s office of the breakaway region denied opposition’s accusations.
“False accusations and distorting reality have become characteristic pattern of the opposition. Its futile attempts to impose subjective position of several interested persons highlights failure of the opposition forces and absence of public confidence towards them,” reads the statement.
When last month Abkhaz leader Raul Khajimba was setting the date of the vote, he was saying that holding of the referendum was not opposition’s goal in itself; he claimed that the opposition hoped he would have rejected the request for referendum to then use it as a pretext for street protests and “destabilization”.