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Breakaway Abkhazia Elects New Leader
/ 2 Oct.'04 / 18:45
Tea Gularidze, Civil Georgia

The Abkhaz election commission claims
there are about 120,000 voters in Abkhazia.
Georgia’s breakaway Abkhazia will have a new leader after the October 3 presidential elections. The elections, which have been condemned by Tbilisi as illegitimate, will mark the end of current President Vladislav Ardzinba’s 11-year rule in the secessionist region.

A total of five candidates are running for the region’s presidency: Raul Khajimba, former Prime Minister; Sergei Bagapsh, chief of the Abkhaz power company ChernoMorEnergo; Sergei Shamba, former Foreign Minister of the breakaway region; Anri Jergenia, ex-Prime Minister and People's Party leader Iakub Lakoba. Observers foresee that a run-off will be needed, as none of the candidates will be able to win the first round of the polls with an overall majority for the five-year presidential term.

Political analysts say that two candidates - the current President’s favorite Raul Khajimba and the opposition movements Amtsakhara and United Abkhazia’s nominee Sergei Bagapsh will lead the polls. The latter’s chances to succeed have been increased after a third opposition movement, Aitaira (Revival), announced its support for Bagapsh. The Abkhazian Central Election Commission denied Aitaira’s nominee Alexander Ankvab from registering, citing Ankvab’s poor knowledge of the Abkhaz language.

Raul Khajimba has three main advantages against Sergei Bagapsh: his candidacy is supported by the current ailing President Vladislav Ardzinba, who despite much criticism from the Abkhazian society still remains an important figure; Ardzinba’s support gives Khajimba possibility to exert administrative resources; and, above all, Khajimba enjoys the Kremlin’s support, which became clear after Russian President Vladimir Putin held a face-to-face meeting with Khajimba in the Russian Black Sea resort town of Sochi on August 29.

Raul Khajimba, 46, was appointed Prime Minister of the unrecognized republic in May 2003. Previously, he served as Chief of the Security Service and the Defense Minister. In the early nineties and during the armed conflict in Abkhazia Khajimba served in the Security Service of the Abkhazian district of Tkvarcheli.

The opposition nominee Sergei Bagapsh enjoys strong support from the leading Abkhazian opposition movements as well as the backing of an influential group of Abkhaz War Veterans. Sergei Bagapsh held the Prime Minister’s position from 1999-2000. Since 2000 he has been the chief of the Abkhaz power company ChernoMorEnergo.

Visiting Georgian State Minister for Conflict Resolution Issues Goga Khaindrava said on October 1 in Moscow that there are "no pro-Georgian" candidates in the Abkhazian presidential race.

"It makes no difference for authorities in Tbilisi which candidate will win the presidential elections in Abkhazia," Goga Khaindrava said. However, he added that it would be better if Raul Khajimba, whose candidacy is backed by Moscow, wins the elections.

"When the positions of Georgia and Russia are approached, it will be easier to negotiate with Raul Khajimba, who is Russia’s favorite candidate," Khaindrava said.

But some observers think that Tbilisi would prefer Bagapsh as future leader of Abkhazia. Political analyst Paata Zakareishvili says that main slogan during the pre-election campaign was "Abkhazia with Russia or alone." "Although Georgia does not appear in this slogan, we would prefer Bagapsh to win the elections," Zakareishvili told Civil Georgia. He said that Bagapsh is basically supported by nationalist groups and the part of population which is against Abkhazia’s integration into Russia.

Like officials in Tbilisi, the international community also condemns the election in Abkhazia as illegitimate. However, a group of Russian parliamentarians intend to observe the October 3 polls in the unrecognized republic. Georgian MPs expressed protest on October 1 regarding this fact and called on their Russian colleagues to refrain from sending observers to observe the Abkhazian elections.

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