|Raul Khajimba (left) became the front-running
presidential candidate following his face-to-face
meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
According to the official results of the Abkhazian presidential elections, Raul Khajimba, former Abkhaz Prime Minister and favorite candidate of outgoing Abkhaz leader Vladislav Ardzinba who also enjoys the support of Russia, garnered 52.8% of the total votes to become the unrecognized republic’s new President. His main contender, influential businessmen Sergey Bagapsh, who was backed by the leading Abkhazian opposition groups, received only 33.5% of the votes during the election held on October 3.
The remaining three candidates’ standings are as follows: ex-Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergey Shamba - 9.9%; leader of the Peoples’ Party Iakub Lakoba - 2.7%; and ex-Prime Minister Anri Jergenia - 0.9%.
The Chairman of the Abkhaz CEC Sergey Smir reported "minor violations during the elections." But, according to Georgian media reports, the ethnic Georgian population of the Gali District of Abkhazia was forced to cast their ballots in favor of Raul Khajimba. Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Issues Goga Khaindrava also said that Georgians in Gali were under pressure from the Abkhaz de facto authorities.
According to the administration of Abkhazia's Gali district, only 15 thousand out of a potential 60 thousand Georgian voters in the district were allowed to vote in Abkhazia's presidential elections on October 3.
The Russian daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta quotes Abkhaz officials as saying that the rest of residents were not officially registered in Abkhazia. Thousands of Georgian displaced persons have spontaneously returned to Abkhazia's westernmost Gali district in recent years, and many consider themselves Georgian citizens.
Georgian authorities quote disenfranchisement of the ethic Georgian returnees as one of the main reasons for regarding the Abkhazia elections illegitimate. Official Tbilisi also claims around 200 thousand Georgian displaced persons are not being allowed to return to their pre-war houses, while the basic civil and political rights of those who returned spontaneously are actively violated by the Abkhaz de-facto authorities.
"I don’t think anybody in the world can accept the situation of ethnic cleansing, when people were forced out of their houses and many of them killed. And having elections without these people can not be considered legitimate," Mikheil Saakashvili said in an interview with BBC World on October 3.
Sergey Bagapsh, the main opposition candidate, is most likely to challenge validity of the October 3 presidential election results. He has 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.
Georgian State Minister for Conflict Resolution Issues Goga Khaindrava said on October 4 that "there are some tensions" in Abkhazia following the elections; however he did not confirm the Georgian media’s reports over clashes between the supporters of the two main presidential candidates.
"I don’t think that in reality Khajimba has more support in Abkhazia than Bagapsh. This week will be very important. Bagapsh has very strong and influential supporters, including the opposition movements Amtsakhara and Aitaira. But I think that now Khajimba and his supporters, including many officials from Russia who are now in Abkhazia, will try to negotiate with Bagapsh, maybe even offer him the Prime Minister’s position in order to ease tensions," Goga Khaindrava said in an interview to Tbilisi-based Rustavi 2 television on October 4.
He condemned the elections once again as illegitimate and described Khajimba’s victory in the elections as "an appointment" and not an election victory, hinting that Khajimba, who is supported by Russia, was promoted to the post of President by the Kremlin.
However, Goga Khaindrava added that it will be easier for Tbilisi to negotiate with pro-Moscow Khajimba, rather than with nationalist Bagapsh.
"If the positions of Tbilisi and Moscow get closer, and I think it will happen, it will be easier for the Georgian side to negotiate with Khajimba. Khajimba, who is in the service of the Russian security service, will follow all of Moscow’s instructions," the Georgian State Minister said.
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.
Observers say that he had three main advantages against Sergei Bagapsh: his candidacy was supported by the current ailing President Vladislav Ardzinba, who, despite much criticism from the Abkhazian society, still remains an important figure; Ardzinba’s support gave Khajimba the possibility to exert administrative resources; and, above all, Khajimba enjoyed 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 told reporters while casting his ballot in the capital Sokhumi that Abkhazia will seek international recognition of its independence, as well as closer economic integration to Russia. "We have already been with Georgia; it is enough," Khajimba said.